Dishonoring the Old

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk




Contempt for the aged is the most common prejudice in America. While racism and sexism are denounced endlessly, ageism is alive and well. A racist is anyone who has an opinion other than an African-American or who uses the so-called N word, which is prohibited despite the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. A sexist is any man labeled as such by any woman. Both racism and sexism can lead to an economic death sentence, as the offender is fired from his job with or without evidence and/or mere accusation.

Ageism, however, is never even criticized. The aged are held in contempt in this country. Even someone only 40 years old may find that he is no longer employable and someone aged 50 can seldom find another job if he needs it. Economic discrimination is not the only disability imposed on age. People viewed as old are treated as boring, ugly, uninteresting, useless, despicable, disgusting, incompetent, and stupid.

An old person accompanied by a younger son or daughter will find that doctors and others would speak to the younger person about the senior without looking at or speaking to the patient the younger person brought with him.

After a spouse dies, and that is usually the man, the widow will receive numerous visitors who talk to each other but not the bereaved. Widows are usually ignored even in religious congregations, no matter how long they have been a member or how many contributions they may have made.

It is no exaggeration to say that the old or those labeled old are the subject of ridicule and arrogant demeaning conduct. This is as common among Jews as other Americans, even in our synagogues. But we have a choice. We can treat the old as the Torah commands and rise above the anger and hate of senior members.

The Torah tells us (Leviticus 19: 32) “…and you shall rise before the hoary head” and honor the old, and the Fifth Commandment tells us to honor our fathers and our mothers and our grandparents.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Drug Culture (with Dr. Thomas S. Weinberg & Dr. Ursula A. Falk, 2018).

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