If children are our most valuable resource, then elders are our most treasured ones. I myself did not realize this truth until this past year. My school, Yavneh Academy in Paramus, has a monthly visit to the Jewish Home at Rockleigh and there I learned personally just how much our elders can teach, inspire, and enlighten us. As a participant in the program, I was given the privilege of learning that simply taking care of an elder’s physical state isn’t enough. Their mind is something to be treasured and held in high esteem. The bond between an elder and a youth is a mutual experience. Elders will share wisdom, knowledge, and insight for the youth to inherit, while the youth gives the elders a love for life and a renewed spark in their final years. Also, as one of the Aseret HaDibrot, and a core Jewish value, this ideal is an important one that the whole world can learn from Judaism.
Adolescence can be a rough and challenging emotional rollercoaster for any teenager. An adolescent may be plagued by stress, emotional disarray, and social anxiety. The major problem at hand with these predicaments is that teens aren’t sure how to deal with them. Although they may seek the advice of their peers or other sources, sometimes these just don’t cut it. When a youth doesn’t have anywhere else to turn to for advice, an elder, someone of a long life of experience and knowledge, can give them the insight they require. The Jewish Home at Rockleigh showed me this truth as I have been going through certain challenges in my life. On my first visit, I, along with my friend, sat with an elder and talked to her about her life and what she went through and experienced. It was a wonderful thing, but near the end of the conversation, she had asked me what I hoped to do as a job or career. I told her that I aspired to work in animation or art. For a while I had been uncertain about whether or not art was a useful career and even doubted my artistic talent, but what she had said afterward had given me new hope. She had told me an anecdote about how she aspired to be an artist as well, but her parents refused to let her go to art school. She eventually became a teacher and still regrets that to this day, but used the story to teach me an important life lesson: follow your heart and your dreams. It’s your life, not anyone else’s. She taught me that day that I didn’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards and to believe in myself. It’s clear that elders can help even the most doubtful and anxious child in a time when everything is uncertain to them.
Although elders can help youths through tough times, the same applies in the opposite manner. Elders’ spirits light up when they are with youths who share their passions. At my most recent trip to Rockleigh, I sat down with an elder who enjoyed art. I grabbed some art supplies that were lying around and we both made watercolor paintings of tree-filled landscapes. Although he had not painted in a long time, as he said doubtfully, I reassured him and he painted beautifully. When I saw him paint, it was like seeing an adult ride a bicycle for the first time since childhood. It was as if the passion inside them was relit and they had added meaning in life. The same goes for when the youths talk to the elders. You can see it in their expression when they talk how much they love sharing their wisdom and experience. Their eyes light up wide and a bright smile is not hard to see on their faces. Giving elders a chance to talk to the younger generation can obviously benefit their mental state and give them a purpose of sharing with the next generation in their final years on this planet.
In Judaism, we learn Kibud Av V’Em, honor your father and mother, as one of the Aseret HaDibrot [10 Commandments]. Although many see it as a law to live by in our youth when we live with our parents, this core principle of Judaic values has a deeper meaning. As our parents get older and require assistance, we must help them with the tasks that trouble them so as to keep their honor or dignity. It makes sense as well: Just as they helped keep us fed, clothed and sheltered as children, so too we must give back to them and honor them in a similar fashion. The rule can also apply to our elders. Just as our elders supply us with the knowledge and experience they have required in their time on Earth, we share with them the precious gifts of a reason to live and a passion for life.
Respecting our elders and sharing precious time with them is extremely beneficial for both old and young. Through my personal experience, I have seen how youths can gain insight into difficult times in their lives from elders and how elders can enjoy their lives and live happily in their final years by sharing their passions and insight with the young. When you look at Kibud Av V’Em from this perspective, it’s not very difficult to see why it is such a core value of Judaism and how the whole world can benefit from this simple principle.
Video of the author explaining why he likes to visit the Jewish Home: