A Heart of Wisdom: Making the Jewish Journey from Midlife Through the Elder Years
edited by Susan Berrin
Jewish Lights Publishing, $24.95
A Heart of Wisdom, a new anthology edited by Susan Berrin, is an upbeat book that makes one look forward to the later years. Jewish tradition, with its respect for the wisdom and experience of its elders, differs appreciably from that of American society, which worships youthful bodies and unwrinkled faces. Our ancestor, Sarah, gave birth and raised a child while in her 90s. Moses led the people through the desert for 40 years and died at 120. Neither of these feats are recommended for us Americans, who are expected to slow down, retire, apply for Medicare and cash social security checks at a mere 65.
The essays by more than 40 contributors in this book introduce us to the challenge of seeing the later years as the beginning of a time that can prove even more productive than youth or middle age. In her essay “Feminism and Aging,” Sheva Medjuck reminds us that Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem regard aging as an opportunity for new adventure. She writes that growing older can allow a woman to live as she chooses even though stereotypical messages tell her to be the demure, self-sacrificing widow.
I particularly enjoyed Margaret Moers Wenig’s essay, “God Is a Woman and She Is Growing Older.” She invites us to imagine God as a woman of many years. “She moves more slowly… Her hair thinning…. Her face lined. Her smile is no longer innocent.” God and Her visitor sit down for a cup of tea. They understand one another. The visitor loses her fear of the future. She can now face each day with wonder and anticipation. She knows that God is in her and of her.
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi teaches that we can become whatever kind of elder we want. In “From Age-ing to Sage-ing,” we learning that growing old is a time to appreciate our own successes and greater maturity. Reading this book, we travel through a section on “Mid-life Passages” to “Meeting the Challenges of Aging.” It is a journey worth enjoying.