Years ago, there was a member in the Young Israel named Lewis Decter. Mr. Decter was a European Jew who was successful in the textile business (I believe), and was the father/father-in-law to our very special members Shirley and David Lyman a”h.
As Mr. Decter got on in years, my father asked him why he didn’t retire. He replied, “Vos vel ich gei tun yeder tag, kloiben knoblach? (What will I do every day, pick through garlic?)” – meaning, he didn’t want to be left with nothing to do other than go to the supermarket to do the grocery shopping.
Yes, retirement can be challenging. As much as the pressure of work is off, there is a need to feel useful and productive. This was a great concern of mine, as well. But I have certain writing projects, shiurim, and chavrusas (study partners) – albeit not enough.
One of the primary reasons we chose to move to Baltimore was to live near two daughters of mine and spend time with the grandchildren. Baruch Hashem, we are blessed with the most wonderful children and grandchildren, bli ayin ha’ra. The little ones (aged two and up) make life that much more worthwhile. It also gives me the opportunity to be a kid again myself.
A few years ago, I wrote of the importance of telling your kids stories. If you can make them up, even better. My repertoire includes “Ignots and Mrs. McGillicuty,” “The Long-Nose Man,” “Fat Mack,” and “SuperYid.” In this impersonal world, where communications among loved ones have given way to texts and WhatsApp messages, it is crucially important that parents and grandparents develop a special bond with their children and grandchildren. Stories are a great way to accomplish that. But they really need to be stories that captivate them, not just ones told by rote. If you ask me, that is much more of a bonding method than all the trips to Florida. But no one is asking me.
When you question my little grandchildren what they like about Zeidi the best, they will say, “The Three Stooges”! Yes, it’s true. In addition to the stories I’ve told them, I introduced to them my favorite show as a kid (I’m still a kid), and they come on an almost-daily basis and ask if they can watch The Three Stooges with me, which we do via YouTube.
It’s interesting how the kids belly-laugh even as Moe is turning Larry’s nose with a wrench or poking Curly in the eyes. We did not grow violent from it and neither do today’s kids. There was something innocent about the show. And innocence is what is sorely missing in today’s environment. Kids today are exposed to every vice, and sadly, it robs them of their innocent childhood.
My grandchildren have become very picky Three Stooges watchers. No Shemp allowed. Only Curly. Interestingly, they prefer the original black and white films rather than the ones that have been colorized. I also have regaled them by letting them know that all the Stooges were Jewish. They know as well that except for Larry, they were all brothers. The others were Horowitz (Leviim) – which became Howard – and Larry was Larry Fine.
Although this seems very frivolous, I feel that it acts as an important bond. Of course, we do their Hebrew homework with them and review the parshah on Friday nights, but the connection must be one of fun, as well.
Rashi, in the beginning of Parshas Mas’ei (BaMidbar 33:1), quotes a midrash that explains why Hashem insisted on recounting all the stops that B’nei Yisrael made during their wandering in the desert. Just as a king (for some reason, the Midrash always loved using a king in its parables) who took his son on a long journey to visit a doctor would reminisce with his son all the various stops they made on the way, so, too, is it with Hashem, who loves to reminisce about our travels in the desert. There is a point of connection that transcends all the lessons in life. It is the walk into the imaginary together.
So, I take out time with this article to break from all the nasty politics of the day and implore parents and grandparents to get down to basics. It does not need electronics, cool games, or exotic trips. It needs to be connecting. Even if it takes the silly world of yesteryear.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.