Thinking about a generation

Thinking about a generation

This week, we celebrate Elaine Adler, who died at 95 after a life filled with the kind of real generosity that has a powerful effect on other people.

The Adler Aphasia Center helps people who were just like the rest of us until they weren’t. Those of us who talk constantly cannot imagine what it would feel like not to be able to have our thoughts move seamlessly from our heads to our mouths; most of us prefer to avert our eyes from people who can’t
do that.

Elaine Adler was able to use the resources that she knew she was lucky to have — and those were resources that she and her husband had earned — to help not only Mike but thousands of other people with aphasia. The research that the centers, in Maywood, West Orange, and Toms River, enable will help many others.

Hers was a well-lived life.

Thinking about Ms. Adler led us to think about so many of the builders of her generation, whose few remaining members now have become old. That generation — most of the men World War II veterans — moved out to the suburbs in the wave of postwar euphoria that carried people into what they imagined as impossibly perfect, bigotry-free, opportunity-rich white-picket-fence land. Finding the suburbs largely empty of the institutions they wanted, they went ahead and built them.

It is that generation of Jewish veteran families that built the shuls and schools and JCCs and other places that defined the Jewish community for generations. It was that generation who saw it as their obligation to give what they could for the
communal good.

Many of them were brash. Many were loud. Some were modest, but others were not. But so very many of them gave not only money but also time and emotion and care to institution-building.

(We’re not going to name them here, because leaving anybody out by accident would be terrible. But most of us know who at least most of them are.)

Things are different now. We’re more atomized and polarized than we were then. We can get all the information we need in a nanosecond, but the trade-off is real. It’s hard to imagine a group of people getting together to build something that would benefit others; it’s hard to imagine the negotiations and compromises such work demands being allowed.

But whether or not we can imagine what it would feel like to be, say, the wife of a World War II veteran, with a childhood marked at first by antisemitism and then by war, forging ahead first in school and then in business, becoming wildly successful, and then dedicating a huge amount of energy, care, and love to helping others — while being a mother and having a life full of adventure, travel, fun, and love — we can feel enormous gratitude to them for building the institutions upon which the rest of us rely.


read more: