2015 Volunteer Recognition Luncheon

2015 Volunteer Recognition Luncheon


2015 A. Hammer & H. Schneiberg, 2015 Vol. LuncheonHello! It’s so nice to have this chance to talk to you about volunteering with the elderly.

There is a tradition of studying Pirke Avot — the Sayings of the Fathers — during this period between Pesach and Shavuot. So I looked to see what it had to say about respecting the elderly. And, sure enough, here it is:

Mishna 26: "Rabbi Yossi bar Yehuda said, one who learns from the young, to what is he compared? To one who eats unripe grapes and drinks wine from the press. And one who learns from the old, to what is he compared? To one who eats ripened grapes and drinks aged wine."

One of the basic teachings of Avot is the necessity of respecting others including, especially, people of age and experience. A society that shows little respect for its elders eventually brutalizes itself.

There is a second benefit to respecting the elderly. The Torah teaches that aging itself is an educating process. Leviticus 19:32 states: “You shall rise before the aged and give honor to the old.”  

Jewish Law requires rising in the presence of a person 70 years or older. (I’ve suggested this to my children; they don’t buy it.) Anyway, the reason given for this custom is that even an ordinary elderly person has acquired wisdom through the many trials he has endured throughout the years of his life. On public buses in Israel, for example, the first row of seats is marked with a sign quoting this Biblical verse. That is because every old person is regarded as having a special wisdom that comes with life experience.

Lastly, respecting an elderly Jew is required because, whether learned or not, that person carries within him or her something else Judaism views as crucial: tradition. The elderly person forms a link between the world today and previous generations. Judaism sees such people as invaluable and irreplaceable bearers of our Jewish heritage.

It certainly is nice to be recognized and I’m very grateful for this honor. But really, the experience of volunteering here is its own reward and the friendships I’ve made and the feeling of doing something that brightens the days of residents are two of the great rewards of being a volunteer here.

The reward of friendship — what can I say? 

First, there are dozens — scores — of residents I have come to admire and enjoy knowing. We’ve often become friends, I’ve learned from them, and been enriched by them. Just a snippet of the wisdom I’ve received;   

When we were discussing whether there were any benefits to growing old: A man of 100, who had gone blind and had many tragedies in his life, said that every year was better than the last because more good things happened to him each year of his life. Now that was inspirational!

Friendships with other volunteers and staff: Harold Schneiberg [co-recipient of the Kitty Davis Award] is the best! He has become a role model, a confidant, and someone who I look forward to spending a day with every week. Rabbi Arthur Rulnick has recently joined our team and also has become a good friend and a fine participant. Jered Pollack helps us every single week and always is willing to do whatever is necessary to make the Shmooze run smoothly. To Jared, who won this award last year, our thanks and gratitude. And finally, and especially, my gratitude for the friendship of Rabbi Jim Michaels. Jim and I met practicably the first day I volunteered here and we immediately bonded. Not only is he the best friend anyone could have, but his treatment of the residents and their families is inspirational.

And as I said, in addition to friendships made, the other great benefit to volunteering here is brightening the day for residents.

What could be a better reward than being told by a resident that the Shmooze group was the best part of his week, or that it brightened his day. Or even the guy who frankly says that the main reason he comes is for the chips and soft drinks we bring?  Whatever it takes.

The whole goal is to bring these people into the world outside the walls of the Home, to help them connect with what’s happening, as well as with each other. And it usually works. It’s an hour when we talk about the things guys enjoy — the news, sports, a bawdy joke, the day in history. And you know what? It’s great for ME. When I walk into the Home I put aside whatever might be bothering me, put a smile on my face, and determine to make the day a little better for anyone I contact.

In summary, there is great power in being in the presence of old people.

As my dear wife reminded me — what I call an example of “the Wisdom of the Mothers” — “what you’re doing is a double plus, because you’re elderly and you’re learning from the elderly.”

Thank you for this honor, and for the opportunity to talk about the great rewards of volunteering here.


Note: In the photo above, Arnold Hammer, left, and Harold Schneiberg receive their award.


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