The Unwelcome Elderly
shall rise before the white head and honor the face of the old and you shall
fear your God, I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:32). This commandment and a
number of others in the Torah displays the Jewish view of old age.
American point of view concerning old age rejects this Jewish teaching
altogether. In twenty-first century America, the old are treated “like skunks
at a picnic.” Those who look old and even younger people can become the target
of ageism, which is best defined as hatred and contempt for the old.
is remarkable that sexism and racism are denounced all day every day all over
the United States, even as those most adamant in their pursuit of the
“offenders” are foremost among the ranks of the ageists.
old in America are rejected, insulted, ridiculed, held in contempt, ignored,
demeaned, belittled, overlooked, left out, locked out, cheated, abandoned, and
condemned. Contempt for the “old” forces those so labeled to live in
segregated communities such as nursing homes, assisted living, senior
communities, and any other device insuring the “old” are out of sight.
is significant that ageists of today become the victims of ageism tomorrow.
Racists and sexists are hardly so encumbered. Yet those who campaign against the
old reap what they sow when they are “old.”
“Old” is relative. Many a
forty year old cannot find a job because of his age. In some industries even
thirty is too old to find employment. Ageism is so pervasive that children call
twenty five year old teachers “an old bat.”
In view of all this our synagogues
drive the “old” out of the congregation. Ignoring Jewish teaching, “old”
members are ignored. For example, at “shivah” visits the widow is usually
overlooked, while the visitors talk to each other but not to the most affected.
At “Kiddush” after Shabbat services, the “old” are ignored. No one
speaks to them, no one greets them. The rabbi is anxious to meet only with the
congregational bosses and treats the “old” as if Jewish teachings concerning
old age do not exist.
“Old” Jews learn gradually
that they are not welcome “in shul” and stay away even as the so-called
“young” prepare their own rejection by teaching those yet younger to reduce
them to non-persons.
There is a solution to this
assault on all of us. That is to lead a productive life. Retire to writing
books, playing an instrument in a dance band, studying a
foreign language, starting your own business, visiting the hospitalized, or
studying the Talmud, and remember that you are a dignified person no matter the
ageists in your synagogue who don’t hesitate asking for your money so long as
you don’t come there any more.