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October 24, 2016 / 22 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘growing’

To 120: Growing Old, Staying Young

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

On 27 March 2012, to celebrate the diamond jubilee of the Queen, an ancient ceremony took place at Buckingham Palace. A number of institutions presented Loyal Addresses to the Queen, thanking her for her service to the nation. Among them was the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Its then president, Vivian Wineman, included in his speech the traditional Jewish blessing on such occasions. He wished her well “until a hundred and twenty.”

The Queen was amused and looked quizzically at Prince Philip. Neither of them had heard the expression before. Later the Prince asked what it meant, and we explained. A hundred and twenty is stated as the outer limit of a normal human lifetime in Genesis 6:3. The number is especially associated with Moses, about whom the Torah says, “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were undimmed and his strength undiminished” (Deut. 34:7). Together with Abraham, a man of very different personality and circumstance, Moses is a model of how to age well. With the growth of human longevity, this has become a significant and challenging issue for many of us. How do you grow old yet stay young?

The most sustained research into this topic is the Grant Study, begun in 1938, which has tracked the lives of 268 Harvard students for almost 80 years, seeking to understand what characteristics – from personality type to intelligence to health, habits and relationships – contribute to human flourishing. For more than 30 years, the project was directed by George Vaillant, whose books Aging Well and Triumphs of Experience have explored this fascinating territory.

Among the many dimensions of successful aging, Vaillant identifies two that are particularly relevant in the case of Moses. The first is what he calls generativity, namely taking care of the next generation. He quotes John Kotre who defines it as “to invest one’s substance in forms of life and work that will outlive the self.” In middle or later life, when we have established a career, a reputation, and a set of relationships, we can either stagnate or decide to give back to others: to community, society and the next generation. Generativity is often marked by undertaking new projects, often voluntary ones, or by learning new skills. Its marks are openness and care.

The other relevant dimension is what Vaillant calls keeper of the meaning. By this he means the wisdom that comes with age, something that is often more valued by traditional societies than modern or postmodern ones. The “elders” mentioned in Tanach are people valued for their experience. “Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you,” says the Torah (Deut. 32:7). “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” says the book of Job (12:12).

Being a keeper of the meaning means handing on the values of the past to the future. Age brings the reflection and detachment that allows us to stand back and not be swept along by the mood of the moment or passing fashion or the madness of the crowd. We need that wisdom, especially in an age as fast-paced as ours where huge success can come to people still quite young. Examine the careers of recent iconic figures like Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerberg, and you will discover that at a certain point they turned to older mentors who helped steer them through the white-water rapids of their success. Asei lecha rav, “Acquire for yourself a teacher” (Avot 1:6, 16), remains essential advice.

What is striking about the book of Devarim, set entirely in the last month of Moses’ life, is how it shows the aged but still passionate and driven leader, turning to the twin tasks of generativity and keeper of the meaning.

It would have been easy for him to retire into an inner world of reminiscence, recalling the achievements of an extraordinary life, chosen by God to be the person who led an entire people from slavery to freedom and to the brink of the Promised Land. Alternatively he could have brooded on his failures, above all the fact that he would never physically enter the land to which he had spent forty years leading the nation. There are people – we have all surely met them – who are haunted by the sense that they have not won the recognition they deserved or achieved the success of which they dreamed when they were young.

Moses did neither of those things. Instead in his last days he turned his attention to the next generation and embarked on a new role. No longer Moses the liberator and lawgiver, he took on the task for which he has become known to tradition: Moshe Rabbenu, “Moses our teacher.” It was, in some ways, his greatest achievement.

He told the young Israelites who they were, where they had come from and what their destiny was. He gave them laws, and did so in a new way. No longer was the emphasis on the Divine encounter, as it had been in Vayikra, or on sacrifices as it was in Bamidbar, but rather on the laws in their social context. He spoke about justice, and care for the poor, and consideration for employees, and love for the stranger. He set out the fundamentals of Jewish faith in a more systematic way than in any other book of Tanach. He told them of God’s love for their ancestors, and urged them to reciprocate that love with all their heart, soul and might. He renewed the covenant, reminding the people of the blessings they would enjoy if they kept faith with God, and the curses that would befall them if they did not. He taught them the great song in Ha’azinu, and gave the tribes his death-bed blessing.

He showed them the meaning of generativity, leaving behind a legacy that would outlive him, and what it is to be a keeper of meaning, summoning all his wisdom to reflect on past and future, giving the young the gift of his long experience. By way of personal example, he showed them what it is to grow old while staying young.

At the very end of the book, we read that at the age of 120, Moses’ “eye was undimmed and his natural energy was unabated” (Deut. 34:7). I used to think that these were simply two descriptions until I realized that the first was the explanation of the second. Moses’ energy was unabated because his eye was undimmed, meaning that he never lost the idealism of his youth, his passion for justice and for the responsibilities of freedom.

It is all too easy to abandon your ideals when you see how hard it is to change even the smallest part of the world, but when you do you become cynical, disillusioned, disheartened. That is a kind of spiritual death. The people who don’t, who never give up, who “do not go gentle into that dark night,” who still see a world of possibilities around them and encourage and empower those who come after them, keep their spiritual energy intact.

There are people who do their best work young. Felix Mendelssohn wrote the Octet at the age of 16, and the Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream a year later, the greatest pieces of music ever written by one so young. Orson Welles had already achieved greatness in theatre and radio when he made Citizen Kane, one of the most transformative films in the history of cinema, at the age of 26.

But there were many others who kept getting better the older they became. Mozart and Beethoven were both child prodigies, yet they wrote their greatest music in the last years of their life. Claude Monet painted his shimmering landscapes of water lilies in his garden in Giverny in his eighties. Verdi wrote Falstaff at the age of 85. Benjamin Franklin invented the bifocal lens at age 78. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright completed designs for the Guggenheim Museum at 92. Michelangelo, Titian, Matisse and Picasso all remained creative into their ninth decade. Judith Kerr who came to Britain when Hitler came to power in 1933 and wrote the children’s classic The Tiger who came to Tea, recently won her first literary award at the age of 93. David Galenson in his Old Masters and Young Geniuses argues that those who are conceptual innovators do their best work young, while experimental innovators, who learn by trial and error, get better with age.

There is something moving about seeing Moses, at almost 120, looking forward as well as back, sharing his wisdom with the young, teaching us that while the body may age, the spirit can stay young ad meah ve-esrim, until a hundred and twenty, if we keep our ideals, give back to the community, and share our wisdom with those who will come after us, inspiring them to continue what we could not complete.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Russian Legislator says Trump’s Statements Show Growing Pro-Russian Sentiment in US

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

Donald Trump’s recent statements regarding his respect for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his policies regarding, among other places, Ukraine, are evidence that the United States is becoming pro-Russian, Russian Federation Council’s International Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev suggested on Thursday.

“Trump has repeatedly proven that he, like no one else, understands the public’s demand for a change in course, and the attitudes of a large part of voters who have grown tired of the Clintons and the Bushes,” Kosachev wrote on his Facebook page.

The fact that a presidential candidate is speaking out in favor of improving relations with Russia means that “similar sentiment is becoming more and more popular in the US, and it can unify political points,” Kosachev added. “Only time will tell whether Trump is ready or—no less important—capable of implementing this. It is definitely too early to celebrate,” the lawmaker concluded.

For now, any predictions of Trump’s plans on recognizing Ukraine’s Crimea as part of Russia and lifting sanctions if he becomes president “are like gazing into a crystal ball, just like with his other vociferous statements,” Kosachev conceded.

Candidate Trump has stated that, if elected, he would consider recognizing occupied Crimea as a Russian territory and lifting sanctions against Russia. Crimea was taken by force in a staged February 2014 coup.

David Israel

Growing Each Day: Can Having a Beard make you a Better Person?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

The Talmud (Yebamot 62B) teaches that Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students died from a divine plague caused by their lack of mutual respect for each other. In commemoration of these Torah Scholars, our Rabbis instituted a period of mourning during this time period between Pesach and Shavuot—called The Omer—which includes the custom for men to refrain from shaving.

The famed Iraqi Kabbalist of the prior century, Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer, writes that all of the observances connected with this period are for the purpose of bringing Am Yisrael closer to each other and closer to G-d (Kaf Hahayim: Orach Hayim 493). Furthermore, a person who finishes this mourning period and does not continue to grow both spiritually and inter-personally has not fulfilled their obligations. This is a very beautiful concept…but what does growing a beard have to do with spiritual development and being nice to our fellow Jews?

My own Rabbi once explained this question by recalling the story of how he had gotten his driver’s license many years ago. The State Trooper who tested him wasn’t particularly impressed with the navigation skills of the young Yeshivah student who struggled to do a three-point-turn and to parallel park outside of the DMV. So at the end of his test, when the imposing figure of the State Trooper loomed above him said, “I need to tell you something,” my Rabbi was appropriately shaking in his tzitzit.

In a stern voice he told my Rabbi, “When I look at you I see a young Jewish man with a big beard on his face. I like how you’re dressed up nice in a yarmulke with your side-locks on your head and a spiffy black suit. I like everything about it.”

My Rabbi didn’t know what to do so he thanked him politely.

The Trooper continued, “I’m a State Trooper right here and right now but when I go home at the end of the day and I take off my hat and uniform, I’ll become a regular citizen just like the rest of the folks in my neighborhood. But you don’t ever get to take off your Jewish uniform and you always have to act like a good man no matter where you are or what time of day it is. For that I’ll let you pass the test if you promise to learn how to park that car a bit better.”

The Trooper’s message was clear. If he had spoken a word or two of Yiddish he probably would have said: If you’re dressed like a Jew then you need to be a mensch. My Rabbi remembers that driving test to this day and always teaches how important it is to act appropriately as a representative of the Jewish people to the rest of the World and to ourselves.

Perhaps this explains what growing a beard has to do with bringing Am Yisrael closer together during the period of The Omer. Since the days of Abraham our forefather, Jews have been wearing beards. It’s as critical to our outfit as pinstripes are for the New York Yankees! Growing a beard makes us look more Jewish and hopefully it will make us act more Jewish too in “loving our neighbors as ourselves.”

Jacob L. Freedman, MD

What is the Role of Venture Capital in a Growing Economy?

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

Yair Shamir, former agriculture minister and founder of Catalyst Investments, discusses how venture capital aids new technologies and boosts the Israeli economy.

Shamir is chairman of NTA – Metropolitan Mass Transit System, which is building a new public transportation system in Tel Aviv. Shamir explains how this system will revolutionize life not only in the city, but Israel’s central region’s economy.

Learn how to approach your personal investments like a venture capitalist, and make sure your emotions aren’t affecting your decisions.

Doug Goldstein discusses the potentially negative effect your emotions can have on the way you make financial decisions. When was the last time you reviewed your portfolio? Are you keeping your current investments because they are inherently strong, or out of a sense of loyalty to a particular company?

The Goldstein On Gelt Show is a financial podcast. Click on the player below to listen. For show notes and contact details of the guest, go to www.GoldsteinOnGelt.com

Doug Goldstein, CFP®

Will Observant Judaism of the Future Look Like Satmar?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

A friend of mine (by way of the internet – I never met him personally) once told me never to predict the future based on linear projections. That was a very wise observation.

One of the things that many people seem to believe is that the exponential rate of growth of the Charedi community is so vastly greater than the growth of any other segment – that ultimately the future will be theirs. Meaning that the rest of Orthodoxy will either be absorbed by them, or will become so small in comparison that it will become either irrelevant, or extinct altogether.

I am one of those people. The Charedim have won. By their growth and sheer determination they are the wave of the future. But I have a modified version of that prediction. Moderate Charedim will populate the the new mainstream majority. It will also contain those I have called RWMO (right wing Modern Orthodox). And evolve into a sociological demographic I call the New Centrists. Rabbi Berel Wein was first made note of this phenomenon. And it is already in progress.

In brief  what is happening is that both communities have adopted modalities of the other. So that even if our Hashkafos are somewhat different, our lifestyles are not. Moderate Charedim and RWMO are both generally are well educated in Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol. Both generally have solid careers where many are professionals.

We are both Koveiah Itim (establish fixed times for Torah study); Daven in the same Shuls; send our children to similar – and occasionally the same schools; are very often good friends, trust each other’s Kashrus; and our families  interact socially each other. It is not that uncommon to find a Chavrusa  beween a moderate Charedi and a RWMO learning together at night in a community Kollel. Our differing Hashkafos are not a divisive issue socially. The extremes on both the right and left may continue to exist, but in my view will at best be marginalized.

Nothing new here.  I have mentioned all this before. Many times. But what I have not mentioned in this context is another demographic that is perhaps the fastest growing demographic of all. One that has absolutely nothing to do with the above phenomenon.  The exponential growth of Satmar and like minded Chasidim. Does that mean that I believe that Satmar is the wave of the future… that eventually they will overtake the rest of Orthodoxy by their sheer population size?  Based on linear projections, one might say that will indeed happen. But I don’t think so, despite their continuing and phenomenally rapid growth.

Currently Satmar Chasidim live in their own world and prefer to keep it that way. The same is true of other Chasidic sects like Skvere.  They will not ‘assimilate’ into any new grouping.  Their values are not the same as the New Centrists at all. They live in a world apart from the rest of observant Jewry.

They are not well educated in Limudei Chol. And although they do work, they generally do not work as professionals. They do not attend colleges and universities. They work at jobs that often do not pay a living wage. Certainly not for a family of 12 or 13 is which is a very common family size. So a great many of them live in poverty…. isolated from the rest of the world.

While it is true that there are some very wealthy Satmar type Chasidim in trades like the diamond industry, construction, and other businesses (like the wildly successful B&H) – they are the exception and not the rule.  Most Satmar Chasidim barely eke out a living and more often than not have to be aided by free loan societies.

There is an article in the Forward by a Frimet Goldberger. She was raised in the world of Satmar. Ms. Goldberger describes  Satmar Chasidim as not only living isolated lives, but as living very religiously demanding lives. More than any other religious demographic. Lives that are stricter now than at any time in the history of Satmar. They have taken upon themselves Chumros that that did not even exist during the life of their founding Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum. And he was pretty Machmir  requiring the rejection of the outside world in its totality.

His purpose was to insulate his Chasidim form the slightest taint of non Jewish culture.  His method was to not only live in a tightly knit neighborhood  – but to be as different from the rest of the world as possible. That would make it virtually impossible to see any commonlaity and thereby assimilate.  That – combined with their extreme Tznius measures makes them culturally incompatible with –  not only the secular world, but even   the moderate Charedi world. Not to mention the Modern Orthodox world.

Here is how Ms. Goldbeger describes it:

(The Satmar Rebbe) had railed against married women growing their hair underneath the turbans and wigs. After his death, most Hasidic women finally adhered to this rule – many out of fear of the severe ramifications of defiance. It is now the acceptable practice in Satmar to expel children from school if their mothers do not shave their heads. The Satmar Rebbe also decried the thin stockings and uncovered sheitels worn in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Now, most Satmar women wear thick, seamed stockings.

The latest Chumra is the blurring out faces of little girls in their photos. Which did not exist when the Satmar Rebbe was alive. She calls such radicalization alarming and not to be ignored.

In my view, all of these factors are the reason that we should not project a victory for the Satmar way of life. This lifestyle is not the wave of the future. Despite their rapid exponential growth. Insuring the isolation that has kept this demographic together and intact, is no longer possible. The internet has just about assured that. Especially now that one can access it in the palm of one hand.  Bans of technological advances like I-phones no matter how harsh the consequences simply are probably honored more in the breach than in adherence.

I am not saying that young people will drop out in significant numbers. Although going OTD  is a growing problem for them like it is for every other religious demographic. But I do think that they will gradually see what the rest of the even Frum world has to offer and many will seek it out. The poverty and strictures particular to this community will accelerate that process. They will see that it is possible to be religious and not be as isolated as they have been in the past. Modernity will catch up to them. Their increasing poverty that their current lifestyle practically guarantees them will motivate many of them to try another way.

They will see a growing new Centrism and realize that there other legitimate ways to practice Judaism. I am not saying that they will all eventually become new Centrists. Although not likley – it is not out of the realm of possibility once they start seeking to better their lives materially. More likely is a scenario to create their own version of a centrist society – rebelling against that part of their culture that keeps them poor – by seeking a better education and pulling back a bit on their radically different appearances… like the insistence that all their married women must save their heads.

I can’t predict the future. But what I think I can predict is that this demographic is not the wave of the future as they are currently constructed.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

Harry Maryles

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