There is a story told of Samuel, the baker, who lived with his aging father and his young son. Every night Samuel would return home from work and prepare dinner for himself, his father and his child. And every night at the table, his father’s hands would shake uncontrollably and he kept spilling soup on the tablecloth because of his trembling fingers. One evening the old man dropped a fine teacup and it fell to the floor and broke.
“From now on you will eat in your room, Father,” declared Samuel. “Here is a wooden bowl for you to use. This, you cannot break!”
The next day Samuel came home and saw his very young son sitting on the floor trying to carve out a chunk of wood. “Dearest Isaac, what are you doing?” Samuel asked the boy.
“It’s for you, Father,” the son explained, “so you can use it to eat in your room when you are old and your hands start to shake.”
Whether or not we are living with aging parents, this story makes us stop and reflect on how we treat the elders in our families and in our community. Do we sit with them at our tables or remove them from our sight when they begin to grow weak and infirm? Do we take time to be with them and learn from them, allowing what has been beautiful in their lives to reflect on us? In a society that is obsessed with youth and vitality, spending time in the presence of our elders (especially those elders whose physical and/or mental capabilities have significantly decreased) is not something that most of us care to do. But Judaism teaches us that after a long life, filled with experiences both remarkable and mundane, our elders have much wisdom to impart to us, and we would be wise to spend as much time in their presence as we can. And even when our elders have lost their ability to communicate their wisdom to us, our tradition teaches: “Show respect to an old person who has forgotten her learning, through no fault of her own, for we have learned that the fragments of the first shattered set of tablets of the Ten Commandments were kept alongside the new tablets in the Ark of the Covenant” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 8b, adapted).
Here at Congregation Shaare Emeth we want to lift up the mitzvah of Kibud Z’keinim, of honoring our elders. There are so many elder members of our community who have given of themselves to help us be the synagogue we are today. We would like to give back to them in some small way by becoming part of a team who visits with them, listens to them, thanks them and reminds them that they are not alone. A core group of Honoring our Elders volunteers have already been trained to do this sacred work and are visiting our first group of members. We thank Rabbi Micah Buck-Yael of JF&CS for conducting this training. We also thank our members, Harvey Glazer, Carole Goldstein, Fran Lizzo, Linda Sandmel, Andy Shanker, Stan Shanker and Kathy Zigler who are all a part of our Honoring our Elders team.
If you have an extra hour or two a month and would like to become a part of this amazing cohort of volunteers, please contact Debbie Bram at [email protected] or call her at 314-692-5345. And if you know of Shaare Emeth members who are living in nursing homes or assisted living facilities and could benefit from visits from one of our volunteers please contact Debbie Bram and let us know.
In Leviticus 19:32 we read: “You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old.” We are proud, at Shaare Emeth, we are doing just that.
Rabbi Andrea Goldstein