As wine ages, the better it becomes. So it may be said concerning my aging father. Every visit I make from Southern California to my father in Booklyn, New York, fills me with trepidation. What will happen when I meet him. Will he be despairing as he grows weaker and weaker or is his resolve to be there for us stronger and firmer?
I am happy to state that since his move into the Brooklyn Sepahrdic Jewish Home for the Aging he has become healthier. In the past few years, we, the family, wondered if his move from his peaceful and private apartment to a resident home would be the correct thing for him. We now know that and the answer is yes. For him it has been a blessing. Let me share the following facts:
My father, may the Almighty bless him, has always been in control of his life, was suffering from chronic health problems. At first there was the healthy denial of what was happening but slowly the realism of the aging process leaves one with less strength than needed and you can't do what you want to do.
As the Talmud relates “Untutored old men – the older they get, the greater their folly; scholarly old men, the older they get, the steadier their mind (Talmud Shabbos).
In the past going to a retirement home meant a one way trip - retiring from life - but with my father the very opposite has happened. He tires with life. By being a very sageous rabbi he now sees more and more people than ever before.
This week I visited him and had to wait fifteen minutes while a couple visited him, thanking him for performing their marriage ceremony thirty years ago. Then another gentleman came by and related that forty years ago he would walk a mile on the Shabbos to hear him speak at the synagogue. Then the phone rang and it was an old friend asking for a blessing for health. By then grandchildren came by with their children. I thought at this rate he will never retire from life!
The next day Rabbi Herson, the Dean of the Rabbinical College of America, came to visit with his son-in-law, a college teacher. They spent an hour speaking excitingly concerning the 270 rabbinical students graduating from their college, receiving rabbinical ordination. This was a program my father helped create with the former Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, Mordechai Eliyahu.
That very same day my father decided that he was going to join the family at a wedding of a granddaughter. Notwithstanding all the people he spoke to that day he was determined to have an ambulance have him taken to the wedding in a wheelchair and participate in the wedding ceremony. And yes he went.
After the wedding ceremony he told me his secret. He had a second plan. He was not going back to the retirement home until he visited his apartment! No way, I thought. But he previously told the driver to pick him up in a half hour as he had his caretaker, children and grandchildren and great grandchildren join him on his wheelchair ride from the wedding ceremony to his house one block away.
Can you imagine the sight of a 90 year old man leading a parade of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to his house! Up the elevator he went to the apartment.
He asked that I open the bottle of whiskey for the adults and soda for the kids and broke out with songs and smiles. Retirement is for old people and not for the older people, he seemed to say. He gives new meaning to "A Rabbi on wheels going places!"
The next day he was so tired and could hardly keep his eyes open but he told me "When I can walk again I will visit my home more often!"
As I had to leave back to my home in California I asked my father for his blessing. He silently blessed me and then said "never give up - no matter what challenges you are faced with - you must always continue." I fought back tears and told myself what a blessing it is to have such a strong minded father who lives for his family, friends and directs them in the right path of life. To be faithful, hopeful and caring.
I think that I will never tire from visiting him in his retirement residence. There he strives and gives hope to the many that live there.
Just as I left he mentioned that he will be at the next Rabbinical meeting where he has presided for over five decades. As he can't travel as much as he wishes. So they come to the retirement home! Yes, I believe there is no need to give up. You need to believe in growing older and not old.
When you get a chance say a prayer for the continued health of my dear father, Reb. Avaham Dov ben Sora.
Rabbi Eli Hecht, Chabad of South Bay, Lomita, CA
Vice-President, Rabbinical Alliance of America