I sometimes tease that my “mid-life crisis” brought me to Baltimore and Chizuk Amuno. I don’t know how you marked the moment, or someday will. (There are many more interesting ways!)
The other night, a group of us got together at the synagogue to talk about getting older. We don’t much like it, but we all hope to do it. Most people I know feel younger than their years. At the same time, they can’t believe how many years it’s been. Wasn’t it just yesterday that…
In our discussion we agreed that the gift of aging is wisdom gleaned from experience. We also acknowledged that we’d be happy to share that wisdom if it would be helpful to someone else.
Looking into Jewish tradition, our group discovered some interesting things. Torah and Jewish values anticipate retirement and celebrate every stage of life. Older Levites trained younger ones, and at retirement were excused from active service in the Temple. There were other things for them to do.
As we age we grow more open to meeting our spiritual needs, not only our material ones. In the 16th century, Rabbi Moshe Ibn Machiri noted that at mid-life “the strengths of the spirit and intellect are just awakening. Having accomplished material acquisition we ask, ‘Is this all that life is about?’”
As individuals and a community, we don’t pause as we might to mark the milestones and meanings of our older years. In the life cycle ceremonies of Jewish tradition, there’s a significant gap – and we pray many, many years – between a wedding and a funeral.
So, I asked if we should create new rituals for ourselves and in our community. How might we mark events like sending a child to college, becoming empty nesters, closing down a family home, turning 60 or 65 or any other symbolically significant age, or retirement? I wondered if we could offer a course of study and exploration that might culminate in a public ceremony honoring the wisdom of our years.
Finally, there was great interest in figuring out how to “sage.” How to organize within our synagogue community those who could mentor willing younger individuals walking their professional, personal, or Jewish paths who might enjoy making a new friend and learning from the richness of his or her life’s journey.
What do you think?