The Treatment of the Old
You shall rise before the gray head and you shall honor the face of the old.
There are approximately 42,000
suicides in the United States each year. Men kill themselves four times more
often than is true for women. Among Americans age 10 to 34, suicide is the
second most common cause of death. Among those 35-44, suicide is the
fourth most common cause of death, and among those fifty-five and over it is the
5th most common cause of death. However, those who are 85 years
old and more are four times more likely to kill themselves than occurs among all
other ages. Sixty-nine percent of suicides are by white men.
The reasons for killing oneself depend
on both status and role. A status is the sum of our privileges. Since men have a
higher status in American society than women and whites have a higher status
than blacks, it is not surprising that both of these groups have a higher
suicide rate than others. Those who have had privileges are more likely to kill
themselves than those who have gained little money or
Popular opinion holds that the old
kill themselves most often because they are sick. This is not true. The reason
for the high suicide rate among
those 75 or more is abandonment. Old people who are isolated and alone kill
themselves when no one calls or visits them or no one speaks to them and they
are shunned. Shunning refers to the failure to speak to someone or acknowledge
the target exists. Old people are
invisible in that selective perception allows younger people to ignore the old.
Locked into nursing homes or assistant living facilities, many old people lose
their identities, as no one speaks to them and no one allows them to participate
in any human reciprocal relationship. The fact is that the old are invisible and
rejected. Contempt for the old is called gerontophobia. This makes the old
invisible in that their existence is ignored and their physical presence is
overlooked. Those who are regarded as unpleasant are not even seen. This
is the condition of the old in the United States.
teaches the contrary. The Torah admonishes us, “You shall rise before the gray
head and you shall honor the face of the old. And you shall fear God. I am the
Lord.” (Leviticus 19:32.) The
American Jewish community, with the exception of those labeled orthodox, is not
acquainted with the Torah. Therefore
American values concerning the old are followed in the Jewish community
and particularly among Conservatives, who now account for 15% of the Jewish
community in this country. Therefore the old or those labeled old
soon find that they are not welcome among
Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and agnostic Jews, who together
are the vast majority of the Jewish
many other American “senior citizens,” many Jewish people in this country
find that they are isolated, alone, and viewed as non-persons. There are
numerous examples of the treatment of so many “old” people's experiences .
example, an “old” person visits a doctor in the company of a younger
individual, usually an adult child. The doctor examines the patient and
then talks to the adult child who brought him but ignores the patent.
sits in her living room surrounded by relatives and congregants to commemorate
her deceased husband. The visitors talk to each other. Eat, drink, tell jokes,
but never once say a word to the bereaved widow.
children want their widowed father to enter a nursing home because they are
tired of having to visit him at home. He has too many requests. So they talk him
into entering a nursing home or assisted living establishment. Now the old man
finds out that nursing homes do not nurse,
nor are they homes. Assisted living places are likewise not
what is advertised. Instead, both institutions serve to enrich the
owners, who charge so much for the incarceration of the so called patient that
he is soon destitute and needs government aid to remain in the “home.” There
all his possessions are stolen by the staff who work there. Meanwhile the old
patient sits in a drugged condition in a wheelchair while sleeping all day. Many
nursing homes are silent because the “patients” sleep all day and often do
not eat because they stay in bed all day, sleeping to avoid facing the misery of
staying alone in their rooms. Nursing homes are prisons which punish the
greatest crime an American can commit. That “crime” is called old age.
Americans deal with the old just like all Americans. The Jewish ethics are
ignored, if even known. Jews know
nothing of Leviticus 19:32. All they know is that the old “get on my nerves”
and are a burden to normal people.
of course Jews and others who seek to alleviate the misery old age brings along.
These are Jews who are Torah true, who seek to be of help to the old, who
believe that old people are human too, and that Leviticus 19:32 applies to them.
These are true Jews, true followers
of Shem Yisborach, and the few who practice what they preach according to the
dictums of Moses and Israel . These are the Jews who have begun to save us from
destruction as they remember the greatest commandment of them all: "Veohavto
Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Jewish Community in the 20th and 21st Century (2021).