By Jo Strausz Rosen
Richard Alpert aka Ram Dass, born in 1931, was a beloved spiritual author and teacher who pioneered the integration of Eastern philosophies into the fabric of America. Ram Dass recounted that when he visited a friend in a remote Himalayan village many years ago, his friend said to him, “You’re looking so old. You’re so gray.” At first Ram Dass reacted to these statements with a Westerner’s typical horror. But in India, he became enlightened, and he realized that being old was an achievement that entitles one to respect and recognition. He came to see that his friend was congratulating him on becoming an elder. He was saying, “How wonderful that you’ve achieved old age.”
In India, men and women look forward to old age as a time to detach from the obligations of work and family life to seek knowledge of the inner self.
The Japanese, who regard old age as a source of prestige, celebrate a national holiday called “Honor the Aged Day.”
Native Americans think of their elders as wisdom keepers whose insight and reflections help safeguard tribal survival.
At Jewish Senior Life we cherish a wrinkled face. We gather and harvest the fruits of a lifetime’s experience. We consciously recognize and celebrate the contributions older adults have made in their careers and family lives. We appreciate our residents and celebrate their achievements and histories.
In our greater metropolitan Detroit community, we applaud hardworking people who have a history of volunteering over their lifetimes. We celebrate and congratulate them for inspiring us. This year is a milestone, the 30th anniversary of our Eight Over Eighty event when we bestow Tikkun Olam Awards on eight outstanding adults over the age of 80, who were nominated by the community for their lives of goodness. These honorees have contributed to us all by selflessly giving of their time and talents. They have made an impact through dedicated involvement and leadership.
Friends, family, and the community are invited to sponsor pages in our celebratory ad journal. The funding raised from this, our largest fundraiser, supports the JSL Quality of Life Fund, which subsidizes kosher meals and other essential support for our residents who are in need. The JSL Quality of Life Fund enables health and wellness programs including exercise, yoga, meditation, massage, Shabbat flowers, outings and bus trips, a slate of weekly professional musical entertainment, social gatherings, and seasonal holiday parties. It provides the support and supplies needed to present and enhance these programs for our residents on both our Oak Park and West Bloomfield campuses.
Each year, we honor the achievements of our Eight over Eighty with reminiscences, and videotaped interviews that highlight their many contributions. We connect each honoree with a young person from the Frankel Jewish Academy to inspire the next generation of Tikkun Olam triumphs. Over the past 30 years, many of the students have told us that these relationships changed their lives for the better. We collect and share the honorees’ stories to show how people have made a difference in the world and to appreciate and recognize them for doing it.
Revisiting eight lifetimes of altruistic achievement always inspires me. We all want our own lives to make a difference, to contribute to others as worthwhile humans. Through our Eight over Eighty event, in addition to celebrating these outstanding elders, raising vital funds for JSL programming, and inspiring all of us, we get a chance to nurture friendships and encourage young volunteers to give their best. And we love that it’s a wonderful reminder that gray hair is something to look forward to!