RSS Feed

Interviewing the Seniors

 

I’m taking a break from writing my monthly column for my synagogue newsletter, mostly because the newsletter is being discontinued. I was given the option of continuing the column as a monthly email blast, but I turned it down, for now, because school is kicking my butt extra hard this year.

IMG_0215

I could use a duckie to nap with too, right about now.

What I loved about writing the articles was the feeling that I was doing something meaningful for my community, not just for my own ego (though that too). I felt like I was picking up loose threads from the community, and weaving them into the whole, to make a stronger fabric.

My biggest regret is that I wanted to do more interviews with the seniors at the synagogue. There’s a whole generation of ninety, and near-ninety year olds, with stories to tell. Stories about coming to the United States when their families escaped from Nazi Germany, or fighting in World War II, or meeting their spouses (of more than sixty years now), or marching and protesting and taking political action to change the world.

IMG_0313

Cricket is an awesome protester!

It’s amazing to me that I have gotten to the point where I’m not terrified of doing interviews anymore. I’m a little anxious, it’s true, but I’m even more compelled by the lives people have managed to live, and any clue they can give me on how to live my own life better. I want to know these people, and I especially want to understand the work it takes to build a community out of such different people. Relationships between individuals are hard enough to create and sustain, but communities? They are complex beings that can die so easily.

There’s a concern among older Jews, and maybe older people of other religions as well, that young people don’t want to belong to religious communities anymore. That, even if they believe in God, or engage in religious behavior, the synagogue itself is not where they want to be. But I have a different take on it. I think young people want the chance to create their own communities, the same way previous generations were able to do. They want the chance to reconstruct the world in their own ways, which is what every generation hopes to do. And if they can hear the stories of their parents and grandparents and great grandparents, they can learn how previous generations went about making their own choices, and where they may have struggled or succeeded along the way. Then the next generation can take the communities we already have and re-imagine them instead of needing to start from scratch.

At least, that’s how I feel about it. I see ways that my community brings me comfort and knowledge and connection, but also ways that it doesn’t quite include me, or reach me, as I am. And my job, in the articles I’ve been writing, and may have to start writing again next year, is to teach people how to expand their view to include me and the rest of the people who have felt left out until now.

Like Cricket. Just watching services on the computer is not enough. At the very least, she’d like to have a private meeting with the rabbi to discuss her concerns. And if he just happened to have a bag of chicken treats at the ready, that would work too.

IMG_0581

“Treats!!!!!!”

 

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

52 responses »

  1. I interact with lots of seniors in my job, so I relate to what you say. I hope as the survivors of this dark history pass away and leave the world, that their stories stay alive.

    Reply
  2. I look forward to reading the stories about the elders in your synagogue. I know that each next generation needs to find its own way, but I fear for young people who turn so completely away from tradition. Community is crucial to a contented life (in my opinion).

    Reply
  3. We need to pass along experiences , even if passed down
    Generation to generation , of history esp the Nazi era so that is never buried or forgotten. Adorable pics.

    Reply
  4. I think each generation ends up making its own form of “community” though as an isolated artist, I find the concept of “community” a nebulous description and state of being. Every person has their own narrative and discourse and finding a place for that narrative in this day and age I think is beset with difficulty. I am writing down little snippets of my family history because if I do not, then when I pass, the narratives of my ancestors will be lost forever. I think narratives are a crucial element of one’s sense of identity in this post modern world where “anything” seems to go. We live in very interesting times today but I think we must maintain a link with our pasts in order to learn and evolve.

    Reply
  5. That must have been a very inspiring and sometimes emotional column to write!

    Reply
  6. Earlier today I read a post from a Catholic woman in her late 20’s noting she ran into only older people at Mass. I think the concern is widespread. It seems to me that our culture is currently so me-focused that the rewards of community are hard to communicate. I would be very interested in how your community didn’t quite include you. I am sorry the newsletter is being discontinued. I rely on ours.

    Reply
  7. We could learn so much from older generations. It used to be important.

    Reply
  8. Fortunately, when I retired my elderly father collaborated with me to put into writing many of the stories of his life as a young person in the Great Depression, and a newly married man serving in Europe during WWII. It still is important. Check out Story Corps!
    https://storycorps.org/participate/the-great-thanksgiving-listen/

    Reply
  9. This oral history is so important for us, and as reminiscence therapy for the elders

    Reply
  10. That’s a great way to look at why younger people have deserted their organized religions…they may still hope for a spiritual experience but prefer different faith communities. Bravo.
    Cricket is a born protester – I would let her march with me any day!

    Reply
  11. Why not schedule some interviews with the older people, one on one? I don’t know how comfortable you might be with that idea or if it’s even appropriate in your community; but out here the old people LOVE a chance to tell their stories. One of the greatest gifts one can give them is time and a listening ear. Continuing the stories is an important thing; one that I suspect is becoming lost with technology and all the blitz over solitary ‘communication’ (i.e. cell phone, tablet, email). I suspect you’d have a positive response if you chose to speak to the older people personally.

    Reply
  12. It’s sad that your older generation has tales of war and horror.

    Reply
    • I know a few of the older congregants who don’t feel comfortable telling their stories of escaping from Germany or eastern Europe because they feel so guilty for their luck, that they were able to get out in time and other family and friends weren’t as lucky. But every story matters and every story has the power to teach and to connect.

      Reply
  13. Rachel, believe me avoidance of synagogues or churches is not limited to folks of the Jewish religion. Your depth of insight is impressive and I thank you for sharing your observations.

    Reply
    • Thank you! I know that a lot of younger Jews are starting their own small congregations, out of their apartments if necessary. But that’s actually a good sign, it means that they want to connect, just in their own ways. I hope that’s happening in other religions as well. It’s a step.

      Reply
  14. hi ..

    following your blog from now on..do follow back please:)

    Reply
  15. It was so comforting to read your story this weekend. My religion makes me feel condemned to eternal damnation because I don’t fit in with their traditional services…yet I participate more in the community than most. Thank you for even saying the words that each generation creates their community in their own way. It makes me feel less like an outcast and more like a pioneer.

    I hope you do continue with the interviews of the elders in your synagogue. Collecting the stories into a book might be a wonderful way to remember the history of your particular community.

    Reply
    • It is so hard to get people to hear each other, let alone to accept each other, and there are some people who will never make the effort. But there are some people who will. Those are the ones to look for.

      Reply
  16. Your efforts for your congregation, I’m certain, have not gone unrecognized, and I hope you will return to your writing. In the meantime, you have captured well the concerns about generational separation. I worried about it with my parents, and now I worry about it with my own children. I have reached the age where many try to preserve their stories for the next generation. One of my biggest writing efforts right now is a memoir. Not great writing, but heartfelt. I hope that for my family it well help to bridge the gap that you write about.

    Reply
  17. God, I think, finds a way to interact with every generation. ❤

    Reply
  18. Perhaps in the future (when you have finished with school) you can undertake a project to interview more people and compile a book to present to your temple on the occasion of a big anniversary. Another idea would be to reproduce it and sell copies as a fundraiser.

    Reply
  19. Rachel, I hope you can find time to continue to do the interviews, perhaps just at a slower pace than previously. What these people can tell you will be lost when they are gone. It would be wonderful to be able to tell their stories.

    Reply
  20. I agree that it is a wonderful opportunity to talk to seniors, especially those who have lived through incredibly hard times like war. I was lucky enough to take a Holocaust literature course back in college and my professor had a lot of great contacts with survivors who came in and talked to us as we read authors like Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel. Of course that was back in the 80s and we are losing these amazing people now….

    Reply
  21. elizabeth ann johnson-murphree

    Rachel, I loved this post so open and honest…before I forget thank you for stopping by to visit the blog. First, your little one looks so much like mine. Mason is what they call a Teddy Bear, I call him an expensive Mutt. Your work with seniors is something for you to be proud of; going forward any work that you do in life will be rewarding. I understand the religious factor, I am one of them. Born into a Baptist community in the South, I went to church Wednesdays and Sunday morning and evening. I taught Sunday school 10 years. In todays world of religion they can choose when they want to attend service. The new pastor’s live and dress better than his or her congregation does; they drive new car’s and take elaborate vacations. This is why I no longer go to church. In my case it was give, give, give, the pastor needs a larger house. They speak of what is in their Bible, many times God is left out, and the people go home to act as they pleased, good or bad. No one, or might I say many are no longer respectful of God. And I live in an over 55 housing, with 90% being from eighty to ninety years old. I tried the interview with some, I thought it might be a good story. No one wants to speak of nor relive their past. Thanks for reading my already too long comment. Stay as you are…have a great Thanksgiving. E.

    Reply
    • Thank you! People are so complicated. There are a number of people who I’ve asked for interviews who said no, for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it makes them feel too vulnerable, sometimes they just don’t want the attention, or don’t want to think about the past because it’s too painful.

      Reply
  22. It’s important to keep those memories going. Good post.

    Reply
  23. Those interviews are priceless for all generations.

    Thank you for doing them.

    Reply
  24. I appreciate your take — your observation that the younger generation wants to create their own community as did previous generations. You’re right that we all live in our own time.

    Reply
  25. Such wisdom and stories to be shared!

    Reply
  26. You are a gifted writer. What a great opportunity you’ve had to do these interviews! I hope all that history gets written down and recorded and not lost as those marvelous people who have been through so much pass from this life to the next. God bless you.

    Reply
  27. The stories they have to tell need to be shared. I hope that you can continue to save them while those who have to tell them are around.

    Reply
  28. I would love to hear the experiences and journeys of these seniors. Maybe you could have a special section of their interviews on your blog. They have so much to offer. A member of our church wrote a book about his dads escape, such a good book…The Last Jew of Rotterdam, we all need to remember.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: