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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Big Girl at Three; Little Girls at 90

Yesterday afternoon, we went (a day early) to Elianna's school to celebrate her 3rd birthday with her. It was really cute, with her friends sitting around the long table while they sang songs, someone lit candles for her that she blew out, and they sang some more, played, and had a good old time.

A little while later, I drove Elianna & Kayla to Hillcrest, where we met up at a pizza store with my grandparents so they could eat lunch, though it was already 4:00 in the afternoon. They'd been at their apartment all day, watching the movers pack up all their stuff for their trek to a senior residence in Philadelphia, after 60 years in Bellpark Manor. They were in a rush to get back, as my grandfather was - of course - doing a few last things for the shul before this morning's move.

In the brief time we were sitting there, Elianna was playing with my grandfather, and while I don't remember exactly what she said that made my grandmother comment, it must have been something about my grandfather's ears. "Tell her they don't work so well as you get old", she laughed. (My grandfather has hearing aids which are... moderately helpful.) She then added how as we get older, we revert - when we're young, we go from crawling to walking to running - to walking slower and slower to needing help to walk to not being able to walk almost at all. I thought this was particularly interesting after talking to my mother a short while later.

On Sunday, my parents were visiting my [other] grandmother at Menorah Park, the senior residence where she has been for a few years. While they were there, they heard a program going on, and decided to peek in and see what was happening, and they discovered a Bat Mitzvah going on - in an old home. Apparently, a group of ladies aged 89-96 years old decided, since they'd never had Bas Mitzvahs when they turned 12, to have them now. My mother related that each lady read a prayer or Psalm, then they each said a dvar torah from what would have been their parsha when they turned 12, and talked about how it applied to their life. She said it was a really nice program, packed with kids and grandkids, Menorah Park people, and other invited guests. A photographer taking her equipment down at the end told my mother she was from AARP Magazine; the story is going to be aired sometime soon on CBS's Evening News with Katie Couric. Meanwhile, you can read more about it in the New York Times:
The rabbi had planned to hold the ceremony in January, but he bumped it back to give the women more time to prepare. “The joke went around the room: Let’s not do it after March,” he said. “Who knows if we’ll still be here!”

On a recent Monday, the women entered Menorah Park’s synagogue for a dress rehearsal. Three used walkers. Another carried a small oxygen tank. As they rose to speak, they left their medical gear by their seats. They approached the bimah unassisted, some limping, and steadied themselves at the lectern with both hands.

Practice began with prayers in Hebrew. Some women stumbled and stuttered through the complicated scrum of consonants. Those who had taught Sunday school for decades spoke more fluidly.

“One generation to another praises thy works,” said Eva Rosenberg, 91, reading from Psalm 145. “They speak of thy awe-inspiring might, and I tell of your greatness.”

Next came the speeches, which traditionally respond to the Torah passage read in synagogue that week. Rabbi Kutner had consulted old calendars to determine the week in which each woman would have spoken at age 12. He asked them to prepare messages based on the passages they would have addressed eight decades ago.

When Ms. Bonder was a child during the Depression, her parents lost their life savings in a bank failure. She later served as an aide to a United States senator. Her speech drew parallels to her Torah reading about Joseph, who rose from slavery to become a pharaoh’s chief adviser.

Belva Singer, 91, meditated on the power of the Birkat Kohanim, the ancient Priestly Blessing.

“This is one of the oldest and most beautiful prayers,” Ms. Singer said. “It is only 15 words, and it has been repeated by our people for thousands of years.”
In addition to being the Priestly Blessing, it's also part of what we say each week when we bless our children.

It's interesting to think about my grandparents moving into a senior residence, as they move away from some of the bigger stages of their lives, on the same day Elianna is turning three, setting out on the beginning stages of her own life, and as Kayla starts to babble and cruise along anything she can pull herself up against. Life's pretty amazing.


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