By Rabbi Yossi Deren
My dear friends, fellow citizens of the Town of Greenwich!
Like many of the gifts that G-d bestows upon us throughout our lives, there is a vast treasure trove of immense value that is hiding in plain sight – right here in our community.
I’m referring to our beloved senior citizens.
Leviticus 19:32 states: “Stand up before a white-haired person and respect an elder.”
The Hebrew word for “elder” is “zakein”; which alludes to a Hebrew phrase meaning “one who has acquired wisdom.” Respecting our elders is a moral obligation, and ostensibly the reference to our elders’ wisdom underscores why it is that they are so deserving of our respect.
But the message about their wisdom is much deeper than the respect that it commands.
The very act of giving to others – no matter what it is that we are giving (money, time, talent, etc.), and no matter to whom we are giving (the elderly, the ill, the poor, the vulnerable, etc.) – the very notion of being able to be the one who is giving, as opposed to being the one who is receiving, is itself a gift and a privilege for which we must be humbly grateful. The respect, the honor, the time and the attention that we give to our elders and to any human being for that matter, should never be seen as a burdensome obligation but rather as a blessed opportunity, because giving is itself a very real form of receiving. When it comes to the general idea of giving, the ROI is obvious to everyone; we all know and feel the benefit we receive from doing a good deed for someone else.
What is not so obvious is how abundantly overwhelming the ROI is when it comes to the good deed of engaging our elders. It is not just the benefit that comes with every good deed of providing someone with assistance, friendship or companionship. There is something much more:
There is the vast treasure trove of immense value that comes to us from the counsel and wisdom that our elders have gleaned through their decades of real-life experience.
How and why do we overlook that?!
“In 2020, the consulting market size in the United States reached a value of 64.4 billion U.S. dollars.” (statista.com) Consultants provide value, as is evident from what we are willing to pay them. But I will venture to say that there is something to the value of our elders’ counsel that far exceeds the value of a consultant whom we hire off the street.
Our senior citizens are educators, businesspeople, housemakers, medical professionals, public servants – everything! They have so much to contribute to the issues that we face as a community. They know the solutions to so many of our problems, and they can provide encouragement when we face various setbacks. We ignore that at our own peril.
What’s more, our elders’ are incredibly eager to share those life experiences and lessons with us. Just think of what it would do to their morale, to their mental health and even to their physical health, if they could be re-engaged in community life.
But alas, our hyper-materialistic society measures productivity in very crass terms – mostly having to do with the number of man-hours and inter-continental flights that can be extracted from a person per week. Old people are seen as burdens, and so they are cast aside…
The “Seniors’ Sunshine” initiative that we’ve started at Chabad of Greenwich hopes to turn that around; we intend to create a new paradigm for how our community views our elders.
In the words of the Spiritual Leader of our generation, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, of righteous memory –
“We must change the attitudes of the leaders of the business and professional worlds, and of society as a whole. Most of all, we must change the self-perception of the aged (and the near-aged, and the near-near-aged) themselves. We must tell them: You are not useless; on the contrary, you are a greater asset to society then ever before, and with each passing day and experience your value increases.”
We must recognize and support the noble efforts of the various agencies and centers in our town that are already providing vital services to our senior citizens. “Seniors’ Sunshine” will augment those efforts through community outreach that will engage people of younger ages and inspire them to volunteer their assistance, to provide companionship and to establish consulting relationships with the beloved senior citizens of the town of Greenwich.
Our hope is that in the future when you hear the term “sunset years”, the image that comes to mind will not be the darkness of the impending dusk, but rather the colorful rays of sunshine in a beautiful sunset…