Second acts

Second acts

Violet Spevack, a columnist and writer at the Cleveland Jewish News, announced her retirement this week.

I spent part of my childhood in Cleveland, and remember the byline; perhaps because she had her picture above her column, which focused on local celebrations; perhaps because her first name was so colorful, and in our 1970s American schoolyard, unusual; or perhaps because even back then I was taking our Jewish newspapers much too seriously.

Yes, even back then. It turns out that Ms. Spevack continued writing after I left Cleveland, through the change of three or four editorial regimes, and – but this is not yet the kicker! – until one month shy of 50 years at the paper.

Half a century.

Here’s the kicker: She started writing for the paper when she was 48. She’s 98 now.

As I muse on longevity and productivity and the prospect of midlife change, I’m listening to Bob Dylan’s new album, “Shadow in the Night.” Dylan, heralded fifty-odd years ago as “the voice of his generation,” is promoting his new record through the AARP. Yet Dylan, never one to gather moss, has reinvented himself again, this time as a voice of his parents’ generation, producing ten new recording of songs made famous in the 1940s by Frank Sinatra. His aged voice makes songs of lost love sound extraordinarily poignant; the optimistic romantic promise of “Some Enchanted Evening” sounds like the wisdom of a grandfather.

In one of my last conversations with my grandmother, then 95, some 20 years ago, she inadvertently quoted Mr. Dylan’s famous line: “The times they are a’changin’.” (With a southern accent, of course.) As indeed they were then, and before, and no doubt ever will be. On page 14, Rabbi David Wolfman discusses some of the challenges our synagogues face as they work with the younger generation of Jewish families. Mr. Dylan and Ms. Spevack remind us that whatever our age, we can do more than “keep on keeping on,” as a 30-something Mr. Dylan once put it. We, and our institutions, can continue to adapt, and grow, and prosper. That, at any rate, is our hope. For Mr. Dylan, our wish is more specific: That he continue another quarter century of creativity until he matches Ms. Spevack’s milestone. And for Ms. Spevack – and though it seems a bit chintzy – I wish her until 120. She’s earned her retirement.