Finding Fulfillment After Retirement
I enjoyed your article entitled “After Retirement: A New Stage, A New Chapter, A New Life” (fall 2019). My soon to be ninety-six-year-old mom, Rita Lowi, fits right in. She has channeled her resilience and desire to do chesed into finding new outlets when the activities she was engaged in were no longer possible. When she was a young wife and mother living in Los Angeles, she maintained interests, hobbies and philanthropic activities while raising her family and working with her husband in their retail business. Now, as arthritis and neuropathy have prevented her from visiting the sick and attending shul functions, she attends a weekly Tehillim group with the help of some of the younger members who transport her, she communicates on WhatsApp because her hearing is impaired, and she has become a prolific crocheter, helping to raise funds for Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Her words of wisdom: Develop interests earlier rather than later in life so that you can be productive despite physical limitations.
Los Angeles, California
Thank you for your informative and heartwarming article about retirement. I am amazed at the altruistic and idealistic senior citizens who extend themselves to keep learning as well as helping others. The only advice I would offer about retirement: Do it while you can still enjoy it!
I retired in my early sixties and never regretted it. The first few years after I retired, I took the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan to attend shiurim, took United Federation of Teachers (UFT) courses, visited museums or went to shows. Now I stay closer to home and occupy my time with exercise, shiurim, volunteering and occasional babysitting. There are so many places you can go and so many mitzvot you can do!
Brooklyn, New York
In your section on retirement, “The Making of a Kollel” by Leah R. Lightman features the one-year-old Beit Midrash of Teaneck (BMT), which is described as “part of a growing trend of ‘kollelim for retirees’ that are blossoming in many communities with large Orthodox populations.” The growth and rapid success of BMT is indeed quite impressive.
However, conspicuously missing from this article is any mention of the pioneer organization in this field, Agra D’Pirka. Some ten years ago, Rabbi Ezra Klein, founder and rosh hakollelim, perceived the need for a structured morning learning program that would attract scholars, laymen, retirees, college students, business people—anyone who wished to fill his morning hours with Torah study. After establishing the flagship branch of Agra D’Pirka at Knesses Bais Avigdor in Flatbush, and witnessing its remarkable success, he opened Agra D’Pirka branches in other New York communities including Boro Park, Kew Gardens Hills, Williamsburg and Monsey. Branches were also launched in Lakewood, New Jersey; Baltimore, Maryland; and Miami Beach, Florida, with plans to open new branches in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Los Angeles, California.
Any treatment of this subject should include Agra D’Pirka.
Brooklyn, New York
Burying a Fetus
We applaud you for publishing Rabbi Elisha Friedman’s article “Burying a Fetus and a Dream” (fall 2019). This moving article is a further indication that the Orthodox world has finally begun to acknowledge the pain and difficulty associated with pregnancy loss, and that it affects men as well as women.
But we found one aspect of the article troubling. Rabbi Friedman writes, “I marveled, because Jewish tradition has given us a wise, if painful, framework to process miscarriage. Standing at that anonymous grave all those years later, I knew something I could never have imagined back when I experienced my own loss: that despite the searing pain of that miscarriage, it was wise that I had been encouraged not to name my child and bury her, but to move on.”
Based on our two experiences with second-trimester pregnancy loss, we have drawn different lessons. Mourning for such a loss is not incompatible with “moving on.” On the contrary, having time and space for healthy mourning can help a couple become ready for another attempt at conception, and assist them in caring for any children they already have. Additionally, openness about the loss allows for other people to get involved and provide support.
With our first such experience, we were too shocked to think constructively about what would be best for us. We simply let the doctors do what they needed to do and mourned by ourselves. These turned out to be poor decisions.
Unfortunately, we faced the same situation a few years later. We knew this time to reach out for help. Sara delivered the baby and was able to hold him. Our rabbi did not advise us to refrain from naming our child, and we did give him a name. This act gave him an identity as a human being and as a potential life. The burial was handled by the chevra kadisha, but Sara was there when it took place, accompanied by a friend. (Alan was not able to go, as he is a kohen).
We respect Rabbi Friedman’s perspective and his means of coping. However, we would caution readers that his is by no means the only Torah-true pathway to deal with such a loss.
Alan and Dr. Sara Goldman
University Heights, Ohio
Rabbi Friedman’s moving and valuable contribution will surely be comforting to many fellow parents who suffered a perinatal bereavement. However, it should not leave the misimpression that halachic tradition requires leaving the parents out of the process of naming and burying the nefel [a fetus that dies in the womb or is born dead].
For example, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l, strongly objected to a chevra kadisha preventing parents from being present at the burial of their child.1 In 2014, a joint directive of Israel’s Ministry of Health, the National Insurance Institute and the Ministry of Religious Services2 required the chevra kadisha to offer the parents the opportunity to be at the burial [of a nefel]. The United Synagogue, a union of Orthodox shuls in England, created a “Guide for the Jewish Parent on Miscarriages, Stillbirths & Neonatal Deaths,”3 which notes:
“Some parents find it too difficult to be present for the burial whereas others derive a certain sense of comfort from being there. Both approaches comply with Halachah and every family should do what they feel is best for them. Some close relatives or friends might also attend but it is not usual to have a large gathering of people at such an occasion” (p. 6).
Surely the bereaved parents’ rabbi, who knows their needs, should be the one counseling them on issues such as whether they or the chevra kadisha choose a name for the nefel and who should attend the burial.
Parents bereaved by a perinatal death react in many of the same ways as do those who suffer the loss of an older child, but society responds differently, especially in the traditional Jewish community. There is no community-supported funeral and no shivah where people could come to express their sympathy and encouragement. As a result, there may well be disenfranchised grief. Indeed, lack of social support is among the predictors of the development of complicated grief after such loss.4
True, many bereaved parents would prefer dealing with their loss in private. But many might well appreciate social support at that dark moment. Public recognition and expression can be as simple as arranging for Maariv at the home of the bereaved or learning a mishnah or two followed by Kaddish deRabbanan.5 Bereaved parents need not take off their shoes or sit on a low stool to be comforted by caring friends and family who stay afterwards. Keriah is not required for the death of a nefel, but the berachah is independent of keriah and may be said b’Shem u’Malchut for this death, as the parents are indeed saddened by the news.6 The parents can also be reminded that it would be appropriate for them to attend Yizkor each holiday if they wish.
We should be aware of the varied opportunities available to comfort those bereaved by such a loss.
1. Rabbi Avraham Stav, Kachalom Yauf 74 (Jerusalem, 2010), 39. The volume discusses halachic and hashkafic issues regarding this bereavement.
2. The details are available at https://www.health.gov.il/English/Topics/Pregnancy/Pages/Loss_of_baby.aspx.
3. See https://www.theus.org.uk/sites/default/files/still%20birth%20singles.pdf.
4. A. Kersting and B. Wagner, “Complicated grief after perinatal loss,” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience 14, no. 2 (June 2012): 187-94.
5. On the general issue of women saying Kaddish, see my review of “Kaddish, Women’s Voices,” Hakirah 17 (summer 2014): 165-178, http://www.hakirah.org/Vol17Wolowelsky.pdf.
6. Rabbi Aaron Felder, Yesodei Smachos (New York, 1976), 2, n. 12, quoting Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l.
Joel B. Wolowelsky
Brooklyn, New York
Editor’s Note: Dr. Joel Wolowelsky is co-editor (with Rabbi Jeffrey Saks) of To Mourn a Child: Jewish Responses to Neonatal and Childhood Death (Brooklyn, 2013).
NechamaComfort is an organization supporting families suffering miscarriage, stillbirth and early infant death. We know the pain Rabbi Friedman so eloquently describes.
At NechamaComfort, we have found that couples can be helped tremendously by immediate support at the time of loss and by being offered choices. If they want to, they can pick a name for their baby that is meaningful to them, have organized grieving time and know where their baby is buried so they can put up a matzevah (stone marker) at the grave and stand and cry for their terrible loss. Halachah allows for all of these things.
It is crucial to train rabbis, doctors and hospital staff so that they know how to be supportive and helpful. Communities can also be educated on how to embrace a suffering family and allow space for both the joys and the sorrows of building a family. NechamaComfort provides professional training and community awareness programs to make sure no one is left to suffer alone.
The goal is not to “get over it” but to “move through” the suffering and to find a meaningful way to incorporate the loss into the story of your life. Whether the loss happened yesterday or years ago, it is never too late to be supported by those who understand what you are going through.
Reva Judas, founder and director, NechamaComfort
Teaneck, New Jersey
Editor’s Note: OU Executive Vice President, Emeritus, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb recalls being told by senior rabbis in Baltimore that the custom in some communities in pre-Holocaust Europe was to give stillborn children uncommon names, such as Abaye for males and Zilpah for females.