Stunning... the Chicago skyline
Rosh Hashanah is the holiday of new beginnings. But, truthfully, new beginnings happen every day. This is the story of mine.
I commute to Chicago. My son and family live there, but I wouldn’t fly there as often as I do to visit only them. They know this, but they still love me. But through them I met a very lovely woman. It is to see her that I fly to Chicago every other month.
I am a recent widower and a retiree. For the past 30 years, I have been living in Israel, a country I love and call home. I have a good life here. Could I make a good life for myself in Chicago as well? I wondered. And what could I do there to give my life the sense of purpose and meaning I feel when I am in Israel?
Because my Chicago friend still works full time, I have many free hours during the week there. The first thing I thought to do was volunteer, and since I’ve always enjoyed working with older people, I contacted the Lieberman Center, Chicago’s main health and rehabilitation center for the Jewish elderly. I received a welcoming and encouraging response. As a result, I now spend two days a week visiting elderly people who have few visitors. In addition, I lead a program on The Joys of Yiddish; I show episodes of television shows of the 1950’s; and I conduct a general knowledge quiz and discussion group. What did they do before I came along, I once jokingly asked the director of volunteer services who oversees a large and impressive corps of volunteers. Volunteering, then, has become the first component of the new life I am making in Chicago. Education is the second.
There are many opportunities for lifelong learning in Chicago. Two programs in particular appealed to me. The first was Northwestern University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. This peer-led program offers courses like Americans: How We Got To Be Who We Are; Great Novels: A Journey in Time and Place; and Let’s Talk About the Movies. The only problem is that the courses run for fourteen consecutive weeks and I am never in Chicago that long. And so, I am enrolled in the adult education program of the Newberry Library, which is Chicago’s oldest independent research library in the humanities. The courses there run for six or seven weeks, perfect for me. So enjoyable is the program that I find myself looking forward even to the train ride that brings me to the city from my suburban home.
This term I am taking two courses. The first is Modern American Drama, in which we read a play a week and discuss it with a Chicago- based playwright. The second course is on Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate, in which we learn about Dylan’s life and analyze his songs. The course is taught by a musicologist who is an expert in Dylan’s music. This entire educational experience has been uplifting and inspiring.
A third component in my new life in Chicago is community. Being a part of the Jewish community has always been important to me. Fortunately, my friend and I both find meaning in Jewish tradition and enjoy attending services. And so, we have become the newest members of Congregation Ezra Habonim in Skokie, Illinois. I use the word newest with some confidence because the congregation is made up almost entirely of older people and new members are few. But the congregation is surprisingly active. The Sisterhood and Men’s Club are highly regarded and have won many awards. The congregation is blessed with a caring rabbi and a warm rabbi emeritus. Interestingly, a few retired rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators are also members. We have met many people at the luncheons following services each Shabbat morning and hopefully, in time, some will become friends. All in all, I can say that my life in Chicago is indeed a good life and a purposeful one as well.
The poet Robert Frost once asked what to make of a diminished thing. Loss diminishes us. Widowhood diminishes us. But it need not break us. There can be new beginnings in our life if we but will them and look for them. That is also the message of Rosh Hashanah which reminds us year after year that we do begin again.