- Older and Wiser
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Our friendship is based on conversations over many years. Bridges has been one of the links that nurtured our thinking and development.
My involvement with Bridges began before the founding even, when I gave a keynote address on the changing Jewish family at a conference of New Jewish Agenda. I talked about addiction and sexual and domestic violence in Jewish homes. The following year NJA co-sponsored with National Council of Jewish Women a talk I gave in New York, "No More Family Secrets." At that talk a woman got up and pleaded with the audience to help her regain custody of her daughter. It was a horror story of an Orthodox family where the sexual perpetrator was given custody of the child, and the difficulty of dealing with courts who wouldn't allow testimony from teachers or counselors because it was "hearsay." This event focused my writing energy for many years to try to awaken the community to the existence of a problem they chose to ignore.
In 1990, Bridges accepted the article entitled "Hanukah: Lighting the Way to Women's Empowerment: A Feminist Ritual of Food, Prayer, and Ourstory-Telling" that Nina Katz, Amy Sheldon, and I had co-authored. Nina, a graduate student at Cornell and Amy, a Cornell Visiting Scholar were given my name when they asked about meeting Jewish feminists in the Ithaca community. Nina's contact came through Smedley's, Ithaca's feminist bookstore [End Page 112] at the time. Our collaboration exemplified the kind of networking through feminist and Jewish conferences, publications, and consciousness-raising groups that involved women of all ages encouraging each other. It was a time of breaking silences, speaking private womantalk, and publicly opening previously unmentioned topics in many venues. In 1980, I attended the first meeting of what was to become the Feminist Therapy Institute, becoming one of its founders, a presenter, and contributor to its publications. I introduced the issues of Jewish women into our mental health deliberations. The workshops that I gave at our local Women's Community Building broke new ground on topics such as Menopause and From Midlife to Old Age.
When you and I began to correspond and to meet, I thought that age 60 was the beginning of old age. Now at 86—called old old—I know that "old age," which can last thirty years or more, can hardly be compared to the beginning of this final stage of life. I am a bit wiser. Living alone after grieving my husband's death 21 years ago has become normal, less lonely, and no longer painful. My body has learned to cope with one limitation after another, ranging from mild to chronic to serious, and culminating this past year in a hip replacement followed by what's known in medical parlance as a CBAG, pronounced cabbage, meaning Cardiac Artery Bypass Graft. Emotionally I have struggled again and again with coming to terms with an aging self-image; no longer the "I can do anything" woman of earlier times to the "I know how to ask for help, I am grateful to be alive, and I am still capable of recuperating from physical and emotional trauma," person who appreciates the kindness of others.
I did a croning ceremony when I turned 60, Simchat Chochma, because I believed that 60 was old. Now at 83, I have to laugh at that. I'm no longer sure how I would define old. I know that I did some of my best work after the age of 60 and at 83 I continue to address issues that I had begun to work on earlier. The body wears out a little, needing restoration and replacement, and I feel a loss of mobility. I need to accept that I can't be as physically active as I once was, but my need to see change occur has not diminished. I get frustrated with how slow the community is to accept the reality of stigmatized behaviors, so I am trying to set up a program that...