From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
He did not attend PTA meetings or back-to-school night. Didn’t take the kids to the doctor, the dentist, or art classes. Didn’t spend time with them on weekends. And, as long as they were married, no one cared. But once they were in the process of a divorce, the judge had to make a decision. They couldn’t co-parent, and sleeping half the week with their father and half the week with their mother wasn’t good for the children.
The judge signaled her intent to issue her ruling as to which parent would serve as the designated primary custodial parent. My client promised that he would be there in the future for his three children. But, as I’ve heard this particular judge remark on many occasions, “Promises are not a recognized currency in my courtroom.”
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This past Shabbos, my wife and I, sans children, were guests at our very dear friends’ bar mitzvah celebration of their son. We had been at their home just a few weeks back for the first days of Pesach and were just getting used to leaven again when it was time to return to their home in Highland Park, New Jersey.
As enjoyable as the bar mitzvah was, the highlight for me was the Shabbos-afternoon visit with my father, his wife, and yes, their dog, Lucky. I am no friend of the canine, but I was able to tolerate Lucky and she was able to tolerate me. We understood each other and accorded each other our due space.
I shared with them my Pesach experience and tales of our children; we discussed Boston, the Ohio State Buckeyes (football and basketball), and exchanged stories of old-time Columbus, where we grew up and my father and mother, may she rest in peace, lived for 42 years. I solicited his advice on a few matters, and I sensed that he was appreciative of the fact that I sought his counsel. There is no greater teacher than age and experience. No matter how old one gets, one still needs his father’s sage advice. In fact, the older I get, the more I think I need to pick his brains.
As I was leaving, I had him bentch me with the traditional blessing that fathers give their sons on a Shabbos eve. I had the sense that as much as I appreciated what he was giving to me, he appreciated the fact that I was evidencing a need for his continued presence in my life. Validating another person’s existence and purpose is a lost art in this “me first” society.
While at the bar mitzvah that weekend, I sat next to a rabbi, the principal of a day school whom I had known in a limited context some thirty years ago. We were catching up about the old days and what we had been through in life since the early 1980s, when we last had any interaction. We had married, watched our children age and our parents and grandparents as well. We discussed the issue of lending purpose to the lives of the elderly, our parents and other aged persons. He shared with me a fascinating approach to this concept employed by the school that he directs.
Most of the schools we know of have chesed projects involving the elderly. The project usually involves a group of students visiting a nursing home and visiting or performing for the residents around Jewish holiday times. And while that surely is a beautiful thing, this principal takes it one step further.
Instead of sending his students to the nursing home, the bus brings the residents to the school. Now this means that the residents have to be in an entirely different mode of dress and attitude than had they sat around the facility waiting for a group of sixth-graders to sing Mah Nishtanah for them. This principal has the residents, many of them former teachers and educators, actually participate in the classroom lesson, teaching the students.
Can you imagine the self-worth and sense of purpose that a retired teacher feels when he or she is once again standing, or sometimes sitting in a wheelchair, teaching a group of students?
One elderly woman in a nursing home had become depressed and would not eat or get out of bed. Nothing the staff could do seemed to shake her out of her doldrums. They tried everything. Her family was called to her bedside, but they could not rouse her or inspire her to get moving again. The family was growing increasingly concerned.
Without explanation, one morning the nurse’s aide- peeks into the room of this former teacher and sees her out of bed, completely dressed, combing her hair, with a notebook at her side. “Mrs. Schwartz, it’s so nice to see you out of bed. Where on earth are you going this morning?”
“Don’t you know,” she responded, “I have to teach at the yeshiva today? My students are waiting.” And waiting they were.
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The period between Pesach and Shavous, Sefirah, is historically known for our mourning Rabbi Akiva’s students who did not accord proper respect for each other, who did not build up the sense of purpose and self-worth of their equals.
Perhaps this is also an appropriate time to engage in activities and attitudes that let our teachers and parents know just how much they mean to us, all the while contributing to their sense of purpose and being.
The hour and a half I spent with my father last Shabbos was not nearly enough, but it was so full of purpose, for both of us. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.