Pre-1A students (including the four Steinig kids!) adored Rebbetzin Chana Gorelick, a”h (the widow of Rabbi Yerucham Gorelick, zt”l, a rosh yeshivah at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary), their morah at Beth Jacob-Beth Miriam School in the Bronx, where my husband, Rabbi Sholom Steinig, served as the menahel. Teaching was never just her job—it was her life. Each year for Shavuos, she would create Aseres Hadibros crowns with her five-year-old students. In 1999, after the crowns were done, she returned home and, unfortunately, passed away. She was in her mid-eighties. She never retired, she never had an Act III.
Baruch Hashem, I have always been fortunate to be involved in very meaningful professional work. As senior director of Community Projects and Partnerships at the OU, I coordinate the Communal Growth Initiative, which provides assistance to communities aspiring to grow, as well as the SPIRIT (Stimulating Program Initiative for Retirees that Inspires Thought) program, which attracts the over-sixty demographic, including retirees, not-yet-retirees, baby boomers, empty-nesters, sandwich generation parents and seniors. Outside of my OU work, I teach online through Bellevue University. With my current schedule, I have very little downtime. Through my jobs, I’ve had amazing experiences and met phenomenal people. My work is invigorating and keeps me young. For now, I have no plans to retire. I’m too busy!
However, I sometimes think about the possibilities. Very few people are like Rebbetzin Gorelick. Most don’t want to work forever. They would rather have the freedom to pursue interests they previously had no time for. “How do you know when to retire?” I asked a neighbor, a newly retired teacher, who was downsizing to a smaller home. She told me, “If you have to ask, you’re not ready.”
But some retire with no plans at all. A friend recently stopped working before she was ready because her employer was no longer permitting remote work, and she didn’t want to be back in the office full time. She hadn’t anticipated retirement and is now struggling to figure out her next steps. On the other hand, our cousin, Mollie Fisch, who was a pharmacist, currently spends her days learning and teaching, and loves retirement. (See this profile of Mollie that appeared in the fall 2019 issue of Jewish Action: https://www.jewishaction.com/religion/inspiration/after-retirement-a-new-stage-a-new-chapter-a-new-life/.)
Whenever anybody retires, it’s critical to have something of value and significance to fill the void. Plans must be made—financial, emotional, mental and physical—long before retirement is on the horizon.
That’s the concept behind our SPIRIT Initiative. The program, which moved to Zoom during the pandemic, provides weekly inspiration and insights on topics including Jewish history, resilience, aliyah, relationships, halachah, nutrition, finance and so much more.
It’s important to remember that people don’t stop living just because they stop working. That is SPIRIT’s focus (www.ou.org/SPIRIT). Our 7,800 participants are skilled professionals and highly educated. Almost all have college degrees—40 percent have earned a master’s degree and 20 percent hold doctorates—and need ongoing intellectual stimulation. For those who are not quite at that stage of life, SPIRIT enables them to start thinking about their future reality. There’s a lot to look forward to. There’s also much to be done in preparation.
I know from working in the Jewish communal world that finding volunteers isn’t easy. Both men and women have the chance to give back when they retire, to share their skills and experience. Some people need a little time to decompress at first—to sit by the pool, to do some traveling—after decades of long hours and hard work. Then they should get busy, which is the healthiest way to approach aging.
My parents were tremendous role models. They were both dedicated government employees and active volunteers in their community. When they retired, my mother had time for her artistic passion for crewel embroidery (which she also taught), needlepoint and painting, all of which she excelled in. My father enjoyed woodworking and became an officer in his local Jewish War Veterans chapter. He took pride in being a minyannaire (attendee at the daily minyan) and drove others to shul well into his nineties. Their retirement was a marvelous Act III.
In truth, the road of retirement is like the rest of life; it can be a truly satisfying spiritual journey. But it’s important to be self-aware, to identify one’s goals, wants, needs, skills and limitations, and move forward to make the most of this opportunity.
I’m not sure what my Act III will look like, and I’m not ready yet, but whatever it is, I hope, im yirtzeh Hashem, to make it a positive, meaningful and fulfilling experience.
Interested in SPIRIT? Visit us at www.ou.org/spirit/.
Rebbetzin Judi Steinig is the senior director of the OU’s Community Projects and Partnerships.