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Kosher Movies: Top Gun Maverick

How do you define retirement? A challenging question. The reality is that I made aliyah in 2010 because I realized that even though I thought I was at the top of my game in my 60s, the world saw me differently. I was part of an illustrious past, but not an educational leader for the future. Moreover, it was clear to me financially that my golden years of earning a high salary were behind me.

I now had to reinvent myself. What to do? Learn more Torah, do more mitzvot, write more and share my expertise with others through the written word and the media, but not as the leader of an educational enterprise. Redefinition led to my writing books on Torah, on writing movie reviews, and to producing and appearing with my friend Steve Posen on a “Siskel and Ebert” type cable TV program in the United States called “Kosher Movies,” reviewing movies from a Torah perspective.

In Top Gun: Maverick, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell does not want to retire. He wants to avoid promotions that will place him in an office. Instead, he wants to stay in the air as an active US Navy test pilot. Therefore, to continue flying he deliberately does not aspire to positions of authority in the military that will place him behind a desk. Rather, his goal is to serve his country by staying up in the stratosphere.

Maverick is elated when he is chosen to train pilots in the select “Top Gun” elite pilot program for a special mission, thinking he will be the leader of the mission. Their job: to bomb a foreign underground uranium enrichment plant, which is heavily fortified and in a secluded location. The planes will have to fly below radar coverage through a winding canyon.

The assembled team of pilots have their own relationship issues and it takes time for Maverick to mold them into a cohesive unit. Moreover, one member of the team, Rooster, is resentful of Maverick who, in his eyes, was responsible for the death of his father in a flying accident.

Attitudes change when the mission begins and everyone feels responsible for each other, determined not to cause a friend to die. Facing danger together brings the men closer together as friends. As a result of this shared experience, Maverick begins to see himself differently as a person and as an instructor of young men launching their careers in navy aviation. Retirement is now acceptable to him because it is on his own terms.

Feige Twerski, a Jewish educator, writes about a Jewish approach to coping with the retirement years. She suggests that it is wise to slow down as you enter your senior years, but not completely retire. If you stop doing whatever it is that gave you a feeling of personal gratification, it could affect you mentally. You may begin to feel useless and depressed. Moreover, if one does not feel productive, self-worth can plummet.

There is more to life than making a living. The true essence of Jewish life, observes Twerski, is “family life, connecting with others, giving charity, giving of oneself, studying Torah” and living a value-centered life.

Maverick is not a student of Torah, but enduring the crucible of painful life experiences matures him. He is now ready to commit to fostering meaningful relationships with peers and with loved ones he left behind in his younger years.

The Torah mandates that we stand before the elderly even if they are not scholars. Why? Because life itself is a teacher. Having gone through the agonies and ecstasies of life, Maverick, and all elderly people, emerge wiser and more thoughtful human beings, worthy of teaching others by example.

About the Author
Originally from Mt. Vernon, New York, Herbert J. Cohen served in the pulpit rabbinate in Atlanta at the beginning of his career. After six years, he moved into the educational rabbinate and served for 23 years as Principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. In 2010, he and his wife came on aliyah to Israel. His latest book, published by Urim Publishers, is "Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema." He may be reached at rabbihjco@msn.com.
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