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Introduction: On Aging in Israel

IYH, I’ll be 62 in Tishrei. In the USA, where I was born, that age heralds early retirement. Here, in the Holy Land, too, one can begin to collect government funds on that birthday. As I am still working and as my benefits will improve if I wait a few years to claim them, I am not yet officially a pensioner.

Meanwhile, I am aging. I’m experiencing progressive changes in my life. I don’t heal as quickly as I used to from damage or disease. I have mobility challenges. Less worrisome is the sprinkle of gray that’s shown up in my hair and the increased lack of elasticity of my skin and connective tissues. I wear glasses for reading, these days, too.

On balance, external points of validation, i.e., other peoples’ opinions of me, matter less and less; I’ve grown into myself, I’ve become more confident. Additionally, my joys have multiplied. My children have matured. They’ve graduated from various education institutes and work in fields that enable them to take financial care of themselves. What’s more, they’ve enhanced my life with grandsons and granddaughters. Essentially, as I’m aging, I’m enjoying much naches.

In spite of those particulars, limitations in physical function know no boarders and intergenerational continuity, likewise, is unbound by governments’ demarcations. The world over, if they’re lucky, people age.

Regardless, there exist differences between getting old in Israel and getting old anywhere else on this globe. Israel is the Jewish state. Jews value, not denigrate, the elderly. Not only does this nation provide transportation freebies and maintain laws that literally place the oldest among us at the front of lines, but Israel fosters an attitude of respect. Israel’s seniors are cherished.

Whereas eminent folks, such as rabbanim, retired military leaders, and secular experts, are often honored worldwide, in Hashem’s land, all silver-haired persons are regarded as “important.” Whether it’s tributes paid to one’s own saftot or sabim at sma’achot or Am Yisrael’s collective impetus to help elderly strangers literally cross streets, golden agers, here, are prized.

Maybe, a percent of the local population emulates foreigners by trying to forestall visible signs of aging via cosmetics or denying birthdays, but most locals are grateful for the opportunities inherent in each lived year. Maybe, a  percent of the local population, similarly, emulates foreigners by trying to shutter or otherwise write off the oldest cohort, but most locals are grateful for access to aged persons’ insights.

In my case, before aliyah, when I viewed life through the perspective of an “immortal” youth, I noticed that the oldest adults, when not hidden, were regularly discounted. Many were ignored or ridiculed at community gatherings. Moreover, those gray heads, who had become dependent on their loved ones, were time and again warehoused in senior centers or locked away within their offspring’s homes.

Decades later, when I was privileged to make aliyah, I was already less plucky. I became aware that in this consecrated sphere, known as “Israel,” elder abuse seemed less prevalent and the community seemed less preoccupied with superficialities than with middot than in my birthplace. More and more, Israel was revealed to be wondrous.

In the years that have since passed, some of my local friends have had to hire home aides. Some have moved in with their children. Some have moved on to retirement communities. Some have died.

In most cases, including, as much as possible with those friends who were negotiating dementia, the elders were consulted and their wishes were heeded. Not one of their children insisted that aging was equivalent to incompetency or that retirement transformed people into bungling beings.

Like my friends’ heirs, overall, Israelis show concern and care, not casual indifference, or, worse, resentment, toward their seniors. The path of Torah, which is the way of life undergirding the Jewish State, frames aging not as a liability but as an asset. In Eretz Yisrael, there’s an intentionality, an insistence, that the elderly constitute a reservoir capable of supplying many vital resources. I’m grateful to be aging in Israel.

Here, in creation’s heart, there’s no need to grieve youth, to feel miserable about elapsed life phases, or to avoid interactions because of experienced changes. In Israel, not only does the soil possess a greater concentration of nutrients than anywhere else in the world, but, here, too, the population possesses a greater steadfastness per nurturing seniors.

Please join me in exploring, via my humble apportioning of anecdotes, both personal and shared, what it means to grow old in this most hallowed place. I remain someone who needs to pick up a kitten to play with it, rather than being able to bend toward it or situate myself on the floor near it. I continue to be someone who rolls her eyes when automated job applications reject my answering that I have 40-plus years of paid writing experience. I carry on, too, as someone blessed to have two generations of descendants. I am fortunate to be growing old in Israel, in a location where seniors are not judged by how much they cost society but are embraced for how much, by dint of their existence, they contribute.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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