Honoring Our Elders: Looking to Our Jewish Neighbors for Inspiration

Taking care of our elderly parents or grandparents can be a tiring, daunting, and sometimes thankless task. In the US, we are a melting pot of a wide variety of cultures that have settled here and bring in their own ideas on how we care for the family. When it comes to caring for our elderly, we can take great inspiration from the Jewish community.

Inspiration Found in Wisdom

Much of what Judaism teaches is based on the understanding that with age comes wisdom. The longer we live, the more we experience, and the wiser we become. In many Jewish communities, one does not learn the Kabbalah until they are 40 or older. They need wisdom to fully learn and wisdom does not mean that you stop learning. Rather the wise are more open to learning from all their experiences. Because of this important focus on the elderly and all the wisdom they possess, caring for the older folks in the community is equally as important.

Caring in Sharing the Responsibilities

It is Jewish law that the children of the elderly care for them in every capacity possible. Depending on the severity of illness or aging, that can be easy or difficult. When it’s easy, it could be nothing more than installing a stair lift, outfitting the bathroom with shower chairs, or widening hallways to allow for a wheelchair to get through the house. Day to day tasks can be accomplished by driving the elderly on their errands, giving them freedom to still do things and yet keeping them safe. Hiring a housekeeper, someone to mow the lawn, or taking turns helping with the upkeep of a home are all ways to care.

Many opt for moving the elderly into their own homes. For many cases, it makes it easier to care for their elderly by keeping them close and not worrying about the upkeep of two homes. While some of us may stress over the idea of moving their parents in, for the Jewish this is the way of life that they have witnessed since childhood. One simply doesn’t think that there are any other options available to them.

In the US, we have seen a rise in facilities that will make taking care of our elderly. They range from retirement communities to assisted living facilities and convalescent homes. They are designed to provide care for the elderly and allow families to enjoy their elderly rather than stress over their care. This works for many families but in some cases, it creates division. Adult children who need to work full-time and care for their own children full-time, find themselves in a predicament trying to spend time with their own parents who are conveniently cared by experts. It may seem easy in the Jewish faith to care for their own but what happens when someone needs nursing around the clock and the convalescent home suddenly seems like an easier option?

Ultimately, Jewish law states that adult children must care for their elderly. However, a growing number are starting to question the intent behind using a nursing home for care. Some argue that if the aging parent can still make decisions and wants to go, the children can place them in the home as a reasonable act of love. We will see if that becomes a trend or if the Jewish community will stay devoted as they have for so long.

It’s important to note that the Jewish faith honors all sorts of life stages. From the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, to motherhood, to the elderly, there is much to appreciate and honor that happens in our lives!



My ‘great schlep’ to Florida pays off in politics and grandma’s food

“If you knew that visiting your grandparents could change the world, would you do it?” A couple of weeks ago, a video came across my inbox with Sarah Silverman posing this very question.

As Florida is such a pivotal and undecided state in this year’s presidential contest, Silverman was urging Jews to visit their grandparents there to educate them about Barack Obama and help swing the state in his favor in an effort dubbed The Great Schlep.

I thought the idea was decent but mostly just hilarious. I forwarded the video on to friends and went back to filing the company expenses.

A week later, I received a phone call from a woman asking me about visiting my own grandparents. I laughed, as I had after the video, but when an awkward silence followed, I realized she actually wanted an answer. She was calling from The Great Schlep and had been referred to me by a mutual friend.

It seemed like a great idea to visit my grandparents in Fort Lauderdale, which I hadn’t done in a few years, and in the process do something for my country. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more enthusiastic I became about going and speaking on behalf of Obama to my grandparents and some of their friends. The 2000 election had come down to literally hundreds of votes, and if I could convince my grandparents and their friends that Obama is the best choice, it might really affect the outcome.

I decided I had to make the schlep, not for myself but for my country and my grandparents, of course. But I needed to make sure they’d be around and would be willing to have the discussion with me. I called my grandmother immediately to tell her the plan. Our conversation went something like this:

“I’m going to come visit you this weekend, and I want to speak to you about … “

“Oh, that’s wonderful! When are you coming in town?”

“I’m going to come for the weekend, but I want to maybe try and speak with you and some of your friends about … “

“Just the weekend? Such a short trip!”

“Yes, it was kind of a last-minute thing. But, Grandma, I want to spend some time speaking with you and some of your friends about Barack Obama and the upcoming election.”

(Muffled sounds of her shouting to my grandfather about my visit.)

“Grandma, do you think you could help have some friends come over in the afternoon, and we could just all talk about the election?”

“Yes, fine, fine, there’s just one thing. What do you want to eat for dinner?”

Needless to say, my grandparents were on board, but the next obstacle was making sure we could get a good turnout so I could make the most of my trip. I quickly discovered the difficulty of organizing an event from Los Angeles with a bunch of senior citizens in Florida.

I couldn’t exactly send them all an Evite or a Facebook invitation. I don’t even know if a simple e-mail would have accomplished much. The success and organization of the political side of my trip would have to be left in my grandparents’ hands. In the meantime, I studied up on the issues.

The rest of the week was quite interesting. A few national news outlets started calling me, referred by The Great Schlep. They wanted to interview my grandparents and me while I was down there. Not only was I going to be making my mark on American history, but I was going to be on TV, too!

I left on the red eye on Friday, Oct. 10, and I managed to sleep for most of the flight from Los Angeles to Florida. As soon as my grandparents pulled up to the terminal on Saturday morning, the greeting was standard operation: 10 minutes of criticism on the length of both my facial hair and my jeans, followed by a lecture on how handsome I could be.

Interestingly enough, however, the political discussion began immediately. My grandparents wanted to jump right into it. Throughout the day, I spent most of my time eating and fixing all the problems they’d been having with their computer and their TV. But we also watched the news together, read the paper and just talked about the country. Most of the time they were lecturing me, but when they had questions about Obama’s stance on an issue, or if they brought up something they had heard about him, I could clear up what was and wasn’t true.

Sunday though, was what The Great Schlep was all about. My grandparents had managed to get seven friends to come to their house. So, for a few hours, they spoke to me about their concerns; I spoke to them about mine, and we all spoke to the TV and radio news crews that had stopped by in the middle to get their story.

A lot of my grandparents’ friends seemed very disappointed in John McCain and how far he had veered from his Straight Talk Express. Their problem with Obama, though, was that they just didn’t know enough about him yet — whether on the topic of domestic issues, like taxes and social security, or foreign issues, like Iran and Israel. In other words, my schlepping to Florida to discuss and answer questions was exactly what they needed.

Come November, some of the people I spoke with might decide to vote for McCain, and others might have always wanted to vote for Obama, but I think the most important thing is that because I went, they were able to learn more about the issues without having to rely on political ads and partisan pundits.

I can only hope my visit will allow them to make an informed decision based on facts and not on campaign smears and misinformation. But in the end, my “great schlep” was not a schlep at all, because not only did I make an investment in my country, I got to spend some valuable time with my family … and I ate better than I’ve eaten in long time.

Taylor Magenheim, 24, is from Texas and has lived in Los Angeles for the past two years. He is currently a development assistant at a Hollywood studio.