Dr. Moffic’s ABCs of Aging Well (Jewishly)
by Steven Moffic
N: NU. In Yiddish, Nu has a bit of a challenging edge, like “so what”? When used in English, it often is just an alternative to “new.” For example, Congregation Shalom has a weekly “What’s Nu?” discussion group about current concerns. Whatever meaning is used, learning new things is good for your brain.
O: OPTIMISM. Despite our collective history of intermittent major traumas, we have proved to be resilient and continue to have optimism for the future, including the belief that the messiah will come some day. Optimism, which can be learned to some degree, is associated with living longer and more healthily.
P: PHILANTHROPY. Giving financially to others, a Jewish value, is one of the major keys to personal happiness.
Q: QUID PRO QUO. Given the often morally questionable power-based “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” let’s reframe its meaning a bit to loving reciprocity. Say that you’ve been a really good parent. Won’t it be more likely that your children, in more than just Jewishly honoring you, will want to take good care of you in old age?
R: RECONCILIATION. One of the most unfortunate outcomes of family relationships is when family members stop talking to one another, as depicted in the Torah with Abraham and his sons Ishmael and Isaac. Often, it takes an unconditional apology by one of the parties to end this before it is too late.
S: SIMCHAS. Simchas are Jewish celebrations. My wife and I had one when we celebrated the aging of our marriage in a renewal of vows at Congregation Shalom for our Golden 50th Anniversary last year. Finding ways to celebrate aging can do much to counter its negative stigma.
T: TREASURES. Inevitably, most all of us have accumulated some treasures over our lifetime, whether that be objects and/or accomplishments. It is psychologically helpful to recall and be grateful for them. Additionally, starting to give away concrete treasures to any who will value them fits our G letter of “Generosity.”
U: UNSAID. So often we pass away without expressing sentiments of importance to loved ones. Some do try to do this during a known terminal illness. However, since knowing when you are likely to die isn’t otherwise knowable, do this whenever the opportunity arises.
V: VACCINES. There is a psychological vaccine to take, not only for the young, but for elders. It is to develop as many significant relationships as possible as that will help counter the negative effects of loneliness and the loss of loved ones, the unhealthy equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
W: WORSHIPPING. There is accumulating evidence that some sort of worship has positive ramifications for health. When it is done with others, lessening loneliness is an added value.
X: X CHROMOSOME. Sorry, men, but we have the X chromosome and women do not. This difference seems to play out in part in our lowered life span, yet our tendency to ignore our own health and mental health is as much of a factor or more, and correctable at that.
Y: YOU! Given that Judaism believes that we are created in the image of God, our purpose can include simply being your best self as we transition more often in old age from doing to being.
Z: ZION. Although Zion National Park could be justified here as one of those bucket list destinations, Zion Jewishly refers to Jerusalem, Israel, and/or the Jewish people more generally. It connects us to our people, land, and ancestors, a connection that can reduce our fear of death.
Steven Moffic, whose Hebrew name is Hillel, is a psychiatrist.