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JCF Blog

Year of the Philanthropic Journey Part 5 of 12: Our Children are Watching

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 1/16/2019

“Honor your father and mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you; that your life will be elongated and that you may fare well..." 
--Deuteronomy 5:16

One of my favorite Jewish values is honoring – or caring for  our parents. This value is so important that the Torah states if we do so “your life will be elongated and you may fare well.”

That’s quite a promise.

Some may read this as a “reward” for honoring our parents. But in my understanding of the Torah, I don’t believe that God rewards and punishes us for our deeds. I believe the Torah lays out a code for behavior that counsels us regarding actions and consequences: if we follow the wise directives, good things will happen; if we don’t, it is likely we (and society as a whole) will suffer the consequences that spill over from bad behavior.  

Or as John Lennon once sang, “karma’s gonna get you.” 

When I was in an Israeli Yeshiva, one of the people I admired most, the Rosh Yeshiva (Head of the Seminary) Harav Aharon Lichtenstein z”l, would walk in late to synagogue on Shabbat with his elderly father and three children. They would go right through the center of the shul and guide the elderly grandfather – who was extraordinarily frail – to their seats right behind the bima. 

There, Rav Lichtenstein would whisper all the prayers non-stop into his father’s ear, and his father would mouth them softly. They did this during the entire Torah portion too. 

What really struck me is how intently Rav Lichtenstein’s children observed him do this. They watched how their father cared for his father – and how his actions enhanced the quality of his life. My guess is this kind of behavior is what permitted the frail grandfather to have the will to keep on living past the time when he could walk, hear or see well.

Witnessing this example, don’t you think Rav Lichtenstein’s children learned how to take care of their father when he aged? And wouldn’t their lovingkindness extend the years of their father as well? 

With this example in mind, we should continuously be asking ourselves if we as a community are doing all we can to keep the Torah’s dictate to care for our parents, and by extension, our communal fathers and mothers. What kind of example are we setting for our children if we allow the elderly to fade away into isolation and poverty? How will younger generations treat us as we age?

Thankfully, between Jewish Family Services, the Mandell JCC and our synagogues, the Greater Hartford Jewish community offers an array of services that address senior needs, including home care, friendly visitors, a kosher food pantry, assistance to Holocaust survivors, counseling, fitness and wellness classes, book clubs, luncheons, excursions, and more. In fact, the JMAP Community Dashboard reports more than 2,650 instances of social and/or emotional programs for seniors offered by local Jewish organizations last year. 

At the Jewish Community Foundation, we steward designated funds created by visionary donors to support these types of programs for seniors in perpetuity – and to fund new initiatives as they arise. And, in addition to helping fund the organizations that offer programs to our seniors, the Jewish Federation is currently involved in a special planning initiative to ensure our parents and grandparents can age in place with dignity and joy.

Is there something you are personally doing to ensure your parents – and our communal parents – are living with dignity and joy? Are you sharing these activities with your children? 

They are watching.

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Joe Fox
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Very inspiring. I trust we'll do the "rights" as we live- for intrinsic reasons and beyond. I do hope our next generation(s) carry on the examples and traditions laid out by our predecessors. We are their beneficiaries.
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