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Older, Wiser, and Busier than Ever

Libi Astaire

Retirement is a milestone like any other — it signals both the end of one stage of life and the beginning of a new one. What happens when that new stage involves moving to Eretz Yisrael? Several very active retirees share their experiences and impressions of making the most of their “golden years” in the land where Torah and chesed blossom.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I call the first name on my list. No answer. I try the second one. No answer. I check my e-mails. At last, a response! But as I read through the person’s schedule, I see only a thirty-minute window of opportunity to catch them before they are once again out the door.

What’s going on, I wonder? I’m supposed to write an article about retirees who have moved to Eretz Yisrael. I have a deadline and a long list of people to call. Why isn’t anybody at home? Isn’t retirement supposed to be a time for slowing down and taking the time to smell the roses?

Aderaba, explains Rabbi Hillel Faerman, the rosh yeshivah of Yeshivas Tsama Nafshi, a yeshivah in Jerusalem geared to the needs of middle-aged and retired men who want to improve their learning skills. “When people get to this stage of life, they often feel as if the clock is ticking.”

That ticking isn’t coming from a staid and stationary grandfather clock, I quickly discover, although many of the people I spoke with are proud grandfathers and grandmothers. It’s more like a stop watch that reminds us that, whatever our age, every hour is precious; every minute is a new opportunity to grow.

“It’s Pure Pleasure”

“That’s my main complaint,” says Gitti, who made aliyah with her husband back in 1995. “I get up at six and go to bed at midnight, and there still aren’t enough hours in the day!”

When Gitti first made aliyah, her schedule was empty. “I didn’t know anyone, other than my family,” she remembers. “It wasn’t easy to meet people, at first. But I decided I wasn’t going to wait any longer. I like to cook, so I started to invite people for Shabbos. I also joined every English-speaking organization there was, figuring that one way or another I’d find a place where I fit in.”

Today she’s found a place for herself both at Yad Sarah, an organization that helps the elderly, the disabled, and the housebound, and at Jewel, one of Aish HaTorah’s learning programs for women.

“Yad Sarah has a program where elderly people, many of whom are Holocaust survivors, will tell their life story to a social worker, who does the interview and records it,” she explains. “My job is to transcribe and then edit the tape. I have to make ‘seder’ out of the oral transcript — since sometimes it sounds like the person got married four times because they repeat the same information. Yad Sarah then puts the edited version into a nice binder, and the family has a beautiful record of the person’s story.”

At Jewel, Gitti is in charge of the program’s library, a library that she helped to build from scratch. Since she trained to be a librarian, the work comes naturally to her. And like many of the other women I spoke to, she says that her chesed work in Eretz Yisrael hasn’t been so much an opportunity to learn new skills as it is an opportunity to continue to use the skills that she already has.

“I love what I’m doing, and I like to keep busy,” she comments. “Living in Eretz Yisrael is an opportunity to help yourself and others at the same time.”

In addition to her volunteer work, Gitti goes to shiurim three times a week, for a total of ten hours per week. “I always wanted to do this,” she says. “My parents were Holocaust survivors and I went to public school as a child. I never had a chance to get a Torah education, so I love learning everything. I can even learn the same subject several times, with different teachers, and still love it. And the best part is that there isn’t any homework, or tests. It’s pure pleasure!”


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