Since the recent presidential debate, I have wondered, “Why is the decision to retire so difficult for men and women over 70?”

I should note President Biden is not the only elected official in this position. The average age of members of Congress is now over 65 years old.

Among the oldest are Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, 90; Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, 82; Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, 81; Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, 85; Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, 84; Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, 83; and Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, 83.

This is a challenge not only for our elected officials but also for many other professions, including clergy.

I was ordained in 1979 and retired three years ago at the age of 69. In June of this year, the last two members of my seminary class retired. I feel that there might be a lot of shared wisdom from my experience that can apply to other professions as well.

Here are my reflections after three years of retirement.

  1. Retirement is not the end of life. It is literally a time when you “put new tires on the car“ (re-tire-ment!) and go someplace, whether literally or figuratively.
  2. In retirement, realize you have a finite amount of time before you or your partner/spouse gets sick. Therefore, every day is precious! Carpe diem!
  3. Find something or some things to do in retirement. Embrace them with the same gusto, strength and dedication you had when working. In my case, I have led two trips of public-school Holocaust teachers to Poland, taught a college course and become a member of the North Carolina Democratic Party State Executive Committee. I have had so much to do!
  4. Travel frequently and extend your stay if you can afford it. My wife and I have been spending lots of time in Atlanta and Israel, where we have kids and grandkids.
  5. Speaking of grandchildren, if you are blessed to have them, cherish them! Hug and kiss them and enjoy every moment that you have with them!
  6. Try to cultivate a good relationship with your successors. Do not get in their way. Certainly, give them the benefit of the doubt. They will do things differently. Realize that some of those things might actually be better!Try as hard as you can to cultivate this friendship. In my case, this was easy because my successor and I worked together for 18 years, and outside of my family, I still consider him to be my best friend!
  7. To Clergy Successors: If the emeritus(a) clergy is still in town, ask him/her to do something occasionally. It doesn’t have to be much. It could be an adult study class or an occasional sermon. Invite them to give a tribute or eulogy along with yours at the funerals of our friends.These things make us feel useful and build on our friendship with you! Remember that the previous clergy might still have connections in the community and that he/she might have been and still could be an important part of it.

As a rabbi, I feel bad for Joe Biden and his family. Clearly, he needs to retire and should have started planning for retirement two years ago. 

It is now time for the younger generation of clergy, politicians, and others to take over. Our generation did as well as we could.

In Judaism there is a concept called the “chain of tradition,” based upon a tradition from almost at least 1,800 years ago. The text says “Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the People of the Great Assembly.” (The Ethics of the Fathers 1:1)

Every generation receives tradition and wisdom from the past, but eventually a new link in the chain needs to be created, a new generation needs to take over.

The “chain of tradition” will always need to have added a new link. As retirees, we should welcome it and help in any way possible to make the new link as strong as possible!

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