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No Retirement for Me

No Retirement for Me

The Rebbe’s words on retirement

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Our entire family was in an audience with the Rebbe, of righteous memory, in honor of our only son Yacov Yisroel’s thirteenth (bar mitzvah) birthday. We had discussed everything we planned to, when the Rebbe surprised me by asking about my uncle, Rabbi Note Zuber of Roselle, New Jersey.

I responded by saying that he was doing well, thank G‑d, and had just retired. The Rebbe shook his head and said, “Retired, what does that mean?”

Foolishly, I thought he needed an explanation, and I began to relate that his congregation had dwindled in size as its members aged, and there were very few congregants left.

The Rebbe responded that there is no such thing as retiring. Situations may arise in life that necessitate changes, and one must then make the appropriate adjustments. But retirement, never!

The Rebbe suggested various options for my uncle. His ideas included moving to New York City, where there were many opportunities for involvement in scholarly pursuits. He emphasized the importance of finding avenues where my uncle could use his talents and capabilities to contribute to the Jewish world.

A few years ago, I was offered an incentive to retire from teaching public school. Without much thought, I made a hasty decision. During my professional career, I had often thought that retirement would be wonderful. One could sleep late, especially on gray, chilly days. One could stay home and just relax, free to do nothing at all.

A few months later I awakened at the regular time, followed my regular morning routine—and then I felt confused. Time seemed quite endless. How would I fill my day? I began with the closets and drawers, kitchen cabinets and bookcases. But soon I realized that these were temporary projects, not a new lifestyle. With great enthusiasm, I planned days at museums and exhibits. Did you ever realize how tiring it can be to stand endlessly, viewing countless exhibits? After a while I realized that this too could not be an activity I did daily, not even weekly—perhaps monthly.

Suddenly, I remembered the Rebbe’s words about retirement. I was looking for a less structured day, but one still filled with meaning, a fruitful day.

I was very fortunate. My former employer contacted me regarding a part-time position that would give me an opportunity to share my professional knowledge. The schedule was flexible, with a commitment of two days each week. I had always been involved with the Beth Rivkah School in my community, and now I became readily available for workshops and lectures. There was also a group of young women who contacted me to arrange a workshop series on creative writing, which turned out to be a most satisfying and rewarding experience.

In my community of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, there are ongoing classes and wonderful lectures on Jewish scholarly topics. Now, my mornings often begin with a brisk walk, followed by a 9:45 lecture—that is, on days that are free. New York City provides endless opportunities for lectures and classes, day and evening, and I always find the challenges of learning to be very invigorating.

I became a docent, a guide, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage at Battery Park. After one term of classes on a once-a-week basis and two months of practicum, observing and following museum guides, I became a certified guide in March 2001. Once a week, I volunteer to guide groups through the museum. It was an exciting experience to apply and be accepted into this volunteer program. And there are countless other meaningful volunteer opportunities available—visiting the sick, assisting newcomers, joining the burial society—the list is endless. Helping others is a truly rewarding experience for me.

The Rebbe is my inspiration in this golden stage of life. He was a master at using every moment of every day to its limit. He constantly initiated new projects and new activities. The last period of his life saw the most fruitful expansion of Chabad Houses throughout the world. The word “retirement” was never in his vocabulary.

Now, it is the Rebbe’s vision for non-retirement that guides my life after “retirement.”

Chana Sharfstein, an expert on Scandinavian Jewish history, is a noted author, educator and tour guide. Raised and educated in Stockholm, Sweden, Chana is a retired member of the New York City school system, and a docent at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Center of Jewish History.

This article is an excerpt from a soon-to-be-published book containing chapters from Chana's rich life experiences for over fifty years in the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY.
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Discussion (3)
August 19, 2012
No-retirement
wonderful article
Tariq Iqbal
Lucknow, INDIA
July 8, 2011
re-tirement
Great article!
j.l.cooley
kcmo, mo-us
plazachabad.com
December 30, 2010
retirement
The Rebbe is absolutely right. I taught for 30 years. I was recently excessed because I was part time and the district is trying to save money. So I was very lost for a while. The Rebbe once said that everything can be a sacred and blessed activity if you approach it that way. So now when I take care of my husband and teenage son, I have another outlook. It feels wonderful because I chose to look at it as a blessed activity, not boring or drudgery. I am also academically involved by learning more and more about Judiasm and am writing a childrens book based on the patriarchs of the Torah with enrichment activities such as cooking and crafts that are on topic, each month. Its been the best "retirement" I can imagine.
Mrs. Catherine Cronin