As the U.S. population ages, many members of the baby boomer group are rejecting the elderly housing paradigm of their parents and grandparents. An article in The New York Times describes innovative senior housing in Florida whose name, Latitude Margaritaville, is based on a popular Jimmy Buffett song. In describing this over 55 housing development designed to resemble a non-stop beach party, the article quotes a University of Iowa anthropologist who says, “We have no shared collective articulation for what later life is for, what the value of living longer is, except not dying…”
I guess that depends on what your definition of “collective” is. The Judeo-Christian tradition has a very clear understanding. While Latitude Margaritaville sounds like a fun place, ancient Jewish wisdom isn’t keen on separating the generations. Listen to this exchange between Moses and Pharaoh.
(Moses relating God’s message) …thus said the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my people go, that they may serve me.
And Pharaoh’s servants said to him…Let the men go,
so they may serve the Lord their God…
…Pharaoh…said to them, Go, serve the Lord your God, but who exactly is going?
And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds…
[Pharaoh said]…go now only you who are men and serve the Lord…
And Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, Go, serve the Lord;
only let your flocks and your herds stay…
God planned to take the entire people of Israel out of Egypt—the young, the old and the middle-aged along with their material wealth as represented by their livestock. Pharaoh’s courtiers advised him to placate the God of the Hebrews by temporarily allowing the males between twenty and sixty to go worship in the desert.
Considering that advice, Pharaoh asked Moses to clarify exactly who would go. Moses answered unequivocally that it would be everyone as well as their possessions. When Pharaoh tried to limit the group by arguing that only the men are needed to worship God, Moses rejected that offer. God inflicted more torment upon Egypt. Pharaoh made one last attempt to prevent an intact people launching their destiny by restricting their economic freedom through retaining their livestock. This offer was also rejected. After the final plague, Israel left Egypt with all its population and all its possessions.
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Pharaoh knew that Egypt was finished. His goal was to prevent Israel from becoming a powerful nation whose success would dim the luster of his legacy. The best way to do that would be by depriving this incipient nation of its past (the elderly), of its future (the young), and by restricting its working-age individuals’ economic vitality. Pharaoh correctly knew that a bunch of people whose focus was only on surviving today would soon be gone and forgotten.
Centuries later, at the time of the Chanuka story, the Greek-Syrians similarly attacked the past, present and future of the Jewish people. They banned circumcision, an act that seals Jewish baby boys into the community (the future); the Sabbath, which draws our attention to God’s dominion over us as our Creator (the past); and the holidays, those days around which we our current year circulates (the present).
Families, communities, businesses and nations gain their vitality and sense of purpose from the past and future. A home filled with the rambunctious noise of little children while also possessing the seasoned presence of wise grandparents possesses strength. Likewise, a business is propelled forward by a sense of purpose gained by making its past and its future just as important as its present. Expanding its employees’ vision to encompass everything from its founding to its tomorrow makes their work today more satisfying and successful. A nation without a shared collective understanding that its older members must pass down values to younger generations is standing on fragile ground.
Similarly, living only among people of your own age group is intrinsically unhealthy.
Moses and the Israelites understood this lesson as did the Maccabees who waged a civil war against those Hellenized Jews who absorbed the Greek, rather than the Jewish message, about time. It is a lesson that is still vitally important today.