WHEN MY FATHER was 60 years of age, his printing business went bankrupt. He had one daughter about to enter college and another one about to get married. A printer and an independent man all his life, he turned his lifelong passion of ballroom dancing into a thriving business by becoming a premier dancing teacher. His small school and reputation flourished; later on he credited this change of careers to saving his life. He continued teaching until well into his 90s.
Whether out of necessity or desire to make a change in their lives, retirement, voluntary or imposed has many seniors thinking very differently than previous generations. The old stereotype of the 65-year-old trotting off to a sun-filled life of leisure is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Many older adults can’t afford to stop working. They may not have traditional pensions, or perhaps the recession pummeled their investments. But even if they don’t get paid, older adults want to remain connected, relevant, useful and engaged.
While for some people, this involves paid, part-time work related to a social mission, often in the nonprofit or public sector, for others, it might be volunteer work, another full-time job, a new business or even a sharper focus on a hobby or recreational pursuit. People are eager to use this time to discover new possibilities and make new life choices.
Once Barbara Sloate retired from her event planning business, a variety of opportunities presented themselves to her. “When you are an event planner, the nonprofit sector seeks you out because your talent is so useful,” said Sloate. The one thing she did know was that “I didn’t want to stay home watching TV and hanging out with others in my age group,” Sloate added. She wanted to stay connected with people of different ages. As a result, Sloate spends six months every year planning for the Strawberry Festival—and working with the celebrities arranging transportation and their VIP treatment. But Sloate is also involved with nonprofit groups.
“One of my favorite involvements is with OCCORD—Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development,” she said. “Every few months they hold citizenship fairs to help folks complete the complex citizenship forms.” Sloate points out that you have a completely different mindset when you use the skills you developed during your career and apply them to a project of your choosing. “The effort is the same but there is less pressure,” she added. A few years ago, Sandy Bursten, a longtime friend, invited her to become involved with yet another nonprofit organization, the Orange County Jewish Genealogical Society.
Bursten had a successful career in the area of human resources, but when it was time for her to retire, she decided to pursue a longtime interest of hers: “I had always been interested in my own family history and had started to work on it years earlier.” Some time in the 1980s, Bursten attended the Israeli Fair, and there was a table for the OC Jewish Genealogy Society. “That got me going to the meetings where I learned how to investigate my family history,” she said. “I discovered a second cousin in Cincinnati who had the same great-grandfather.” Since then they have become fast friends and genealogy buddies; the other find was locating family in Argentina. That group folded and was out of business for 10 years; but, while serving on the board of Heritage Pointe, Bursten met another interested party who suggested they reinstitute the OC Jewish Genealogical Society. A few interested people met in July 2011, and that was the beginning. Bursten serves as Vice President and recently attended an annual meeting of the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Society in Salt Lake City, with over 600 attendees.
The Society holds monthly meetings at Temple Bat Yam, where they maintain a library of about 120 books, all related to Jewish Genealogy and genealogy in general. There are beginner’s workshops where people learn how to trace their family histories and can receive one-on-one help as well.
One of the highlights of all this work for Bursten was in June of this year, exactly 200 years after her great grandfather was born in 1814, when members of the family from all over the country, and even Argentina, attended a family reunion. What a celebration!
When Larry and Linda Seidman reached the point in their lives where one asks, “So what do we want to when we retire?” they suspected the answer would have everything to do with Jewish learning. Both were still working when they came upon the ad for the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles. “I signed up immediately, but had no idea where it would lead,” said Rabbi Larry Seidman. “I discovered that I could get a degree part time and be ready for retirement—whatever that might bring.”
“I flunked out of retirement,” said Linda Seidman. She had gone back to work. But after attending one of Larry’s classes, she was hooked and though she continued working, also began taking classes. Both are now rabbis.
During their internship under the auspices of the JFFS, they both worked as chaplains in the Orange County Jail System and continue to serve in that capacity. “We developed a program for the jail that never existed in any form before,” said Rabbi Larry.
In addition to the CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) training they have both had, Rabbi Linda has also had Sheriff’s training and is a counselor for the probation department. This was something they never thought they would be doing, but both derive great satisfaction from the work. “When you work in the jails,” said Rabbi Linda, “and see how people are so responsive and thrilled for you to be there, it makes you feel very special.” Rabbi Linda also does a great deal of hospice work and conducts Shabbat services in Senior Centers.
In Orange County, even though almost 80 percent of Jews are unaffiliated, they want to celebrate certain life cycle events—thus there are a lot of unmet needs within our community. Because they are independent rabbis, the Seidmans have the opportunity to perform a wide range of life cycle events that are both unique and highly individualized. “We work very hard to develop a creative and innovative approach to each ritual for each individual,” said Rabbi Larry. “You could say that this is a different kind of ‘hobby.’ We have the time to make event very special.”
It used to be generally considered that there were three stages in our lifespan—the learning stage, the work stage and the retirement stage. However, we are moving into a time when those stages are merging, and we can look forward to experiencing lifelong learning, work and play.
Florence L. Dann, a fourth-year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in L.A., has been a contributing writer to JLife since 2004. She served as the Vice President of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation West Coast and currently teaches English as Second Language to adults.