Friday, August 31, 2007

To Be or Not To Be Senior Citizen

A recent article in Haarez by Arye Dayan talks about a new book by Dr. Israel Doron. He mentions how Israel Law discriminates against the old.
It made me curious to find out more about the author and going to Google I found another interesting article by Israel Doron about the Failure of the Senior Citizen Law. In spite of many attempts to get it going, it main problem seems to have to do with finding the necessary budget.

To Be or Not to Be a Senior Citizen, that is my question.

There are other aspects that are no less essential and are less budget bound.

To show respect towards old people, to acknowledge their mere existence, to have open intergenerational communication and joint activities does not require huge budgets, but would make us feel a lot better.

To get to know the old people, a large and ever growing sector of the general society in Israel, is essential.
There is no role model in the Israeli society to go by, on how to keep the old as an integral part of the whole.
At the beginning of Statehood we were essentially a young society with few old people. Meanwhile those that were young then, have grown old and in addition, advancement in medicine allows us to grow older and older.

We have a long period of our life, from 60 plus to 90 plus, a period of over 30 years of being considered old and older. The later part becomes increasingly more and more difficult. The feeling of no longer being needed allows the feeling of loneliness to get hold of us.

Unfortunately we are often judged by the exceptions.
Those that are supposed to deal with us old people are used to look for what is the problem and then try and solve it. That seems to be the way social workers are taught during their studies.
They talk about us old people, but do not talk with us.
The same at the decision making level.
Who ever talked with us, but rather they decide for us.
What about our autonomy? Do we have to forego that just because we grow old?

There are other alternative ways at looking at aging, rather than only trouble- shooting. For example, what are the needs of old people and how can they be met.

Our emotional and psychological needs remain the same as in other age groups. Our need for respect remains and we need recognition of our special needs.
We may need help in keeping up with new modern methods, such as “Caspomat” or other new devices unfamiliar to us.
Keeping up with time is an art, which needs to be mastered. Some of the older people may need more help than others.

It is difficult to maintain self-respect when society downgrades us as being useless, as a burden unto them, as extra mouths to be fed.

The study of ageism has to take on a new look, no longer just based on old-fashioned Gerontology. It is not enough to know that we old people do not see so well any more, do not hear so well, do not walk so well. That is old and well- known stuff.

It is more important to know how to help us cope better with what we still can do for ourselves, how to balance between dependency and autonomy.
To respect us the way we are, in order for us to preserve our self-respect and self-esteem, which are essential ingredient for coping.

Liora Bar-Tur, Phd. in her book Metal Health and Aging, The Challenge, evaluation and Treatment, mentions the lack of interest on the part of student in any subject dealing with the old.
On the other hand, if they take the offered class in Psychology of the Old, sometimes for no other reason then that it happens to fit into their time schedule, the more they get into the subject the more interesting they find it.

In the book edited by Prof. Arnold Rosin, Aging and Old Age - Eshel 2003, as against the well-researched medical aspects, the psychological, sociological and Anthropology aspect of Aging and Old Age are less developed and often are pretty well neglected.
According to many of those that contributed to the book, more research is needed in these fields, in order to better cope with the ever- growing sector of society.

To Be (old) or Not to Be (old) is not a question.
In spite of it all, we all hope to grow old gracefully.

The big question is how to keep up, and if possible, improve the quality of life of old people, an ever-growing part of our society.

An eighty-four year old great-grandmother

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The young and the old

What is it that differentiates the old from the young?

The young are merry and happy and live in the here and now and are looking forward to the future.

The old live in the past. The future is not something old people like to consider or look forward too. Future for them is increased weakness, death of friends and end of life for themselves.

The young generation of today is on the whole much better of, then the present old generation ever was, when they were young themselves.

Take a wedding for example.
At my own wedding 1941 during the war the cleaning ladies were the sole witnesses at the Magistrate who married us.
At my granddaughters wedding there were 700 invited guests.
I got married one afternoon after work and the next day was an ordinary working day. My granddaughter is leaving for a month trip abroad.

I sat among the 700 invited guests and came home to my four empty walls.
I enjoyed the fact that my granddaughter got married, I enjoyed watching the young crowd sing and dance and make merry, but I felt out of it, as not belonging. I sat at the side and just watched.
If I try to tell somebody how I feel, they tell me not to be foolish. They say how wonderful that your granddaughter is getting married and how wonderful to be at the wedding.

Let me be honest and not pretend and to acknowledge truthfully my own feelings. It is not that I am not happy for my granddaughter to dance all night at her wedding and be merry.
But my own feelings include the fact that I am no longer independent, I need to be picked up, to be helped to get in and out of the car. Somebody has to hold my hand when walking on un-chartered territory, up some steps and down a path. I cannot walk while balancing a plate full of food in my hand. I am constantly depending on somebody to give me a hand.
I know I should be grateful, for there are others who are a lot worse of than myself. But that is hardly a compensation for my own feelings of aloneness and of loneliness that simply hits me in the face.

There is no point in telling me go and do some volunteer work and help others and that will make you feel better. I volunteer in many different ways and help others. I enjoy doing that and get a lot of satisfaction from my volunteer work.
But my feelings are my feelings and should be accepted and I should be allowed to express them as they are. Even if they might sound to others as being unrealistic, to me they are real.

May be therein lies the difference between young and old. Being at the same time at the same event, we feel different about what is going on.
Old peoples thoughts are more likely to turn inwards, to olden times and provoke a different set of feelings.

The young enjoy the here and now, they see the future ahead of them. And it is good that they do so.
A lot of water will flow down the river before they will be old.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Listening - Trusting - Listening

My interests are widespread.
Oh good for you, some might say. But sometimes that can be very exhausting. The turn side of it is that I always have to be careful what to mention to somebody belonging to a diverse group. Not everybody is skilled in listening.
To give you an example: I belong to a group called Trust, which last Monday visited the home of the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information in Beth Hanina/ East Jerusalem. We were about 30 people, half of them Jewish Israelis and the others residents of East Jerusalem. For many it was the first encounter with the “Other”. To help us get acquainted we paired of with somebody we did not know from before, each given for 3-5 minutes to tell the other about a person he does trust and why he trusts him. As it happens I paired of with the host. While I talked about trusting my son, mainly because he is a good listener and I can trust him to be there for me when ever I need him. My partner has a similar relationship with his brother. He considers him more as a friend then just a brother. They often travel together, share their thoughts and have total trust in each other.
We both of us also had a very trustworthy relationship with our mother. He said that his mother was an outstanding person, the same as I often talk about my own mother. On exploring further, we talked about similar relationships within families and among siblings that we find in the Bible as well in the Koran.
Trust is something one has to work on and build up over time. Being able to listen to the “Other” is an essential ingredient for building mutual trust, which is one of the basic needs of mankind.
The evening turned out to be a fascinating one and although it got late, it was difficult to part as there was so much we wanted to talk about.
Out side of this particular group, there is nobody among the rest of my acquaintances that I can talk about my experience of that evening, with the exception of my son.
The only solution is to put it on my “blog”.

The next day I gave a talk about the Shoa to a small group of young people from Germany and America who have come to Jerusalem for a short Ulpan to learn basic Hebrew, before they go on with their study or start work in Israel, including with Holocaust survivors. I told them the story of my family, my parents having perished during the Holocaust. On of the young men asked me, if I have suffered so much at the hands of the Germans if I did not hate all of them even today.
My reply was:” Did it sounded like that?” He said: “No, but he certainly would expect me to react like that”. I asked him if he had done me any wrong so that I should hate him. He said, no not himself, but perhaps his grandfather.
I tried to explain to these young people, that what was done to us Jews in those days is unforgivable, but that I could not hold them responsible for the behavior of their grandparents.
These young people have to take upon themselves the responsibility for what is happening today in the here and now.

I have just come back from a Rosh Hodesh, (New Moon) meeting with a few American women from the Synagogue. They are all so rooted in their Americanism, where they had lived, what they had done, whom they knew and which Rabbi, that I feel totally out of it. They simply have not yet put their roots down in the here and now. I tried to tell them something about the meeting in East Jerusalem. They looked at me in utter disbelief, what they don’t know about, does not seem to exist for them.

Sometimes I long to share with somebody and convey my feelings about a certain meeting or a subject to somebody who can be a passionate listener, who can listen without judging, just listen.
To build up mutual trust, it is essential to be able to listen to the other, you just have to listen and wait till your turn come to talk. Hopefully the other will be able to listen just as compassionately to you and what you have to say.
Listening is a skill. It has to be practiced again and again. But it is a useful tool in getting on with each other, in being able to trust each other.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Finding a friend

Daily I receive different e.mails. Recently I received the following:

I am writing on behalf of Henni Pollack, who now lives in Portland, Maine. She is a friend of Esther Dubester (from Israel) and she was trying to get in touch with her. Do you know if she is still living and if so, how Henni can get in touch with her. I appreciate your time and your attention.
Thank you very much,
Susan Berkman

Esther Dubester aged 87 is an old friend of mine. I phoned her and asked her permission to pass on her phone number. She was very pleased to hear that Henni is still around. They are friends from early childhood but had lost touch with each other.
I was curious to find out how Susan had got unto me of all people. So I asked her and that is her reply:

Thank you so much for writing to me. I spoke to Henni last night and she too was so excited to that her friend was 'found'. She was going to try to call her today. It's amazing how this came to be. Henni lives in an Independent Living Residence in Maine. A friend of mine and I volunteer and do Shabbat services there Friday evenings. She saw I was looking up some information for another resident there so she asked if I could try to find her friend. I was not having any luck trying to look on the computer under Israel White pages. So I 'googled' the name Ester Dubester and got a match. That's because you mentioned her in the story you wrote. Computers are not always good but they are fascinating how they work. I then saw she was a friend of yours. So next I 'googled' you. Some stuff came up and said how you were involved with the Interfaith Encounter Organization. Next, I e-mailed them to see if they knew how to get in touch with you. They e-mailed me back with your e-mail, so then I e-mailed you and now here we are! All because you mentioned Esther in your writing, my friend Henni can now make contact with her friend Esther. It's a wonderful thing. Thanks again for your time and responding to me.
I think we both did a Mitzva (spelling?).

The story I mentioned Esther Dubester in, is my unpublished manuscript “Please to meet you”, which really is the story of my life. Esther Dubester lives in Tel Aviv. While I still lived in Haifa, I participated at a two day a week University course. Esther kindly put me up over night week after week until I finished the course. That was the beginning of my academic studies. Thanks to that I later got my B.A. in Sociology and educational counseling at the Haifa University. By then I was already a grandmother. Soon after I started to use the computer.
By now I am a great-grandmother live in Jerusalem and enjoy keeping in touch with people the world over and also prepare power point projections for my talks about the Holocaust and other subjects.
As Susan said, computers are not always good but what would we do without them. At least Esther Dubester and Henni , who is almost 90, could once more talk to each other.