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Life of Yeshiva Guys in Israel: Old Age

Life of Yeshiva Guys in Israel

A Pictorial, Vidorial, and Textorial Panorama of the Life of Yeshiva Guys in Eretz Yisroel (Israel). Join us as we discover Eretz Yisroel and all it has to offer Yeshiva Bochurim.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Old Age

Old men are different. People expect old men to die.
They look at them with eyes, wondering when.
People watch them with unshocked eyes…
But the old men know when an old man dies. – Ogden Nash.

I’m scared of being old. Not just being old, but being old and…unimportant.

When you’re young, it’s easy to plan on making a difference. Always in the future. Always tomorrow. Some of us even start acting towards that future now. But then the cold world does a number on our ideals and the fiery enthusiasm of youth. And the fire that was is doused out by the icy indifference of a world that cares not.

I spent some time with an aged Chasiddishe Yid recently. A relic of times gone by. Very real. Not some storybook Rebbe, but a real, live example of a Jew from times gone by. He reminds me of an old, gnarled walking stick that has been used for many years. And through heavy usage, it has become splintered and broken to the point of, well, no return. He’s been used, leaned upon, and walked on for so long that I fear…I fear there is very little left.

His zmiros are a defiance of the properties of song. Singing, crying, moaning and groaning mixed together until I don’t think he himself could differentiate where one zemer ends and the other begins. He constantly cries out “Oy, Bashefer Zeesah, Heiligeh Bashefer”, calling on the Creator to…I don’t know why he calls, exactly. Perhaps he doesn’t either. He’s weary, bone weary with the exhaustion of age, the exhaustion of pushing and pushing for so long.

And now, in the twilight years of a long, storied life, he has little to keep him company. Little family, and few close friends or students. At one point, I try to give him a compliment. I tell him that I like the minyan, the davening. He rejects this with a careless wave of his hand- “The Bashefer darft “liken”, he answers humorlessly. Such bitterness. Such overpowering...depression? Despair? What drives a man who feels he’s already completed the race? Who feels that he should’ve received the trophy, and that the cheering crowds are shouting exuberantly for the wrong runner?

Spending time with such a man is wearying, really. He had planned on making a difference. Perhaps he even did, at one point. So what happened? How did it come to pass that he sits in a large, empty house, bemoaning all that is wrong with the world, without the vision to see himself? He cries out against the usage of mirrors (for vanity reasons), but has clearly never used one- he doesn’t know how he looks, and more; doesn’t know how people look at him. Wearying doesn’t quite cut it, however. Scary is more like it. Terrifying. Will I grow old and despondent, like him? Having never made a difference? Railing against a world that has passed me by? I hope not.

So what can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen?

I don’t know. But I’ve got a few ideas. Never stop working on myself. Never stop loving people. Never give up hope in Am Yisroel. In the power of the Jewish People, and all they can accomplish. Always strive upward. And to ask myself, every day, every morning: How much closer I am to my goal(s) than yesterday. Because without constant movement towards, backsliding is probable, if not certain.

And yet, this old man- a remnant of a world that was, that never will be again- has in him, dormant, mostly, the oil and flame that must have fueled him so many years ago. No doubt he’s been through troubles, pain and experiences far worse than I can imagine with my limited view of suffering. Perhaps that is what has extinguished his fire. But I tell you; I wouldn’t want to be an old man without that fire to keep me warm.

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Anonymous someone said...

Many lonely elderly people are like that, and some are not, it depends. I think that eventhough it might not look like they appreciate our company, they really do.

Also, you have some good ideas, to help yourself stay strong

September 4, 2009 at 2:45 AM  
Blogger Yeshiva Guy said...

Thanks. I think that although some elderly people are like that, the large majority of frum Jewish people do have things in their life that keep them company, unlike this Rebbe, which is what inspired to write the post originally.

September 7, 2009 at 12:24 AM  

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