When you are in the thick of life – raising small children, going to a job, and trying to fit a week’s worth of tasks into each day – you feel like the whirlwind will never end. But as a person whose children are mostly out of the house, I am beginning to realize that it is inevitable for all of us, if we are fortunate enough, to enter a new phase of life that is very different from that previous “era.” It is called retirement.
Retirement, say the experts, is more than simply the cessation of a career or a job. Rather, it is a distinct stage with its own joys and problems. Many things change. Working people have a routine and purpose to their daily activities. Whether plumber, scientist, teacher or social worker, they wake up in the morning and know what they will be doing that day. When they retire, they no longer have the structure of a job. They may also miss the socialization with the people at work, the satisfaction of a job well done, and the regular paycheck.
I decided to speak to some people in our community to see why they retired, how life is for them after retiring, and how they are filling their newly available time.
Just as people have many reasons for taking a job, their reasons for retiring differ as well.
Several people I interviewed expressed the feeling that it just felt like the right time to leave. They wanted to leave the job while they were at the top of their form and not when they were burned out and tired.
Mrs. Charlotte Reches taught Bais Yaakov second grade for 27 years. She has even taught the children of some of her earlier students. Mrs. Reches often meets former students who are now in their 30s, and, amazingly, they still recall specific things they learned or projects they made in her class. Mrs. Reches retired this year. She explains, “I have been teaching many years, and I just had the feeling that now was the right time to retire. I wanted to do so when I still enjoyed my relationship with the girls and felt the work was stimulating and rewarding.”
Sometimes people retire because they are physically not up to working full time anymore. Mrs. Robin Sender* worked as a paralegal for the state for many years, as a liaison between the criminals and their defense lawyers. Although she found her work satisfying and challenging, she decided that retiring was the best option for her at this stage in her life. Mrs. Miriam Sperling, who worked as a new mother and baby nurse for many years, recently retired as well. “Working as a nurse is physically exhausting,” she says. “I knew it was time to stop.”
At times, people retire because circumstances at their jobs have changed. Mrs. Miriam Heinemann retired from teaching at Bais Yaakov high school a few years ago. “In my earlier years of teaching, I had close relationships with my students,” she says. “They kept up with me even after they graduated by calling or writing letters. As the age difference between me and my students grew, I felt that the girls were more likely to develop relationships with the younger teachers – and I totally understood them. I probably would have also done that as a teenager. I felt that it was time for me to retire.”
Fayge Miller*, a preschool teacher for many years, says, “I stopped teaching when I started to get messages from my co-teachers that I was not relating well to the children. The generations have changed, and my way of connecting to the children was too harsh. I realized that it was time to step back and let the younger generation take over.” I sensed some nostalgia in Fayge as she reminisced about her classroom days. It is not pleasant to feel outdated.
Mr. Ken Gelula, whose name was synonymous with CHAI for more than 29 years, recently retired. When I asked him why, he said that he didn’t exactly retire from working; he only retired as executive director of CHAI. “It is very unusual for a person to work as the head of a nonprofit for so many years. I felt that CHAI would benefit from a change and so would I.” It is clear, however, that he feels good about his parting. “I left the organization in a good place and with a highly qualified member of our community to succeed me.”
Adjusting to Retirement
Dr. Andrew Goldfinger worked as a physicist at the Applied Physics Laboratory for 40 years and retired three years ago. He had a lot to say about being retired and does not seem to suffer from boredom. “The most important thing about retirement,” says Dr. Goldfinger, “is not to retire suddenly but to slow down gradually. I cut down my hours slowly over a number of years. Also, people think that preparing for retirement means preparing financially, but it is also important to think about how you will spend your time when you are retired.” Dr Goldfinger still maintains an office and sometimes does projects for his old company. But the bottom line is that Dr. Goldfinger really enjoys having the freedom to choose what he wants to do and only takes on projects that interest him.
Mr. Gelula admits that it wasn’t easy to suddenly cut off his relationship with an organization he had been so involved with. “After I retired, my wife and I went to Israel for a family simcha,” he says. “When we came back, I called Mitchell Posner, my successor at CHAI. I told him that I was suffering from withdrawal symptoms and asked if we could get together periodically to discuss what was going on at CHAI. Mr. Posner surprised me when he said, ‘I’ve been waiting for you to get back and can’t wait to meet with you.’ We have gotten together every month or two since then”
Mr. Aryeh Gross was an engineer for aerospace companies for the approximately 45 years that he was part of the working world. He first worked in the private sector, and then worked for the U.S. government for the last 14 years, developing smart transportation systems, utilizing satellites and rocket science. Mr. Gross is enjoying his time as a retiree, but warns, “You need a plan as to how you will fill your time.” One part of Mr. Gross’s plan was to nurture the relationships he developed while working full-time. Now that he is retired, those relationships have led to consulting jobs in Israel. His connection with the Minister of Transportation in Israel, for example, began over 10 years ago. He was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference in Israel, and has been in touch since then. When he was working for the U.S. government, Mr. Gross was sent to Israel to teach the Israelis how to develop smart transportation systems. Like Dr. Goldfinger, Mr. Gross emphasized that the nice part about being retired is the ability to choose to work only on projects that appeal to him.
Mr. Gelula also benefits from the connections he made with people while working with CHAI. Since his retirement, his expertise in community development and nonprofit management has brought him a number of consulting and temporary positions. Most recently, he served as the interim director of a nonprofit organization in Baltimore City while a permanent director was being recruited.
Using Time Wisely
The people I interviewed obviously put thought into how they would spend their days after leaving the job. And although Dr. Goldfinger has let it be known that he is happy to test rocking chairs, hammocks, and couches for comfort – and has printed up business cards describing his new profession, “Retired Bum” – he also spends many hours in more productive pastimes. Like many of the men and women whom I interviewed, he has added more Torah learning to his schedule. Retiring on August 2, 2012, Dr. Goldfinger began attending a Daf Yomi shiur on August 3. “I go to davening, eat a leisurely breakfast, and then attend my shiur,” he says.
Mrs. Yocheved Gelula, Ken Gelula’s wife, who worked as an instructional designer for many years, attends a shiur given by Rabbi Dovid Katz, and enjoys the website Aleph Beta with shiurim by Rabbi Dovid Fohrman.
Along with his other regular learning, Mr. Aryeh Gross attends an interesting Choshen Mishpat chabura in Ramat Beit Shemesh, where a dayan from London discusses with the participants actual cases he receives in bais din.
Other interviewees told me about WIT shiurim, Partners in Torah, Ahavas Yisrael chaburas, and other classes that they attend now that they have more free time.
For women, retirement is somewhat different from that of most men. As homemakers, they continue to take care of grandchildren, cook meals, prepare for Yom Tov, and host their families. Yet they can do these things in a more relaxed manner. As Mrs. Sender says, “I am already enjoying feeling relaxed about preparing for Yom Tov, without the pressure of my job at the same time, and I anticipate going away for a few weeks without worrying about having to be back for some project at work.”
Mrs. Gelula agrees: “I feel like my life is much fuller now that I don’t work. There was never time for anything after a full day of work and the commute to Columbia or Washington. Now I am available to help my daughters with their children. I can take care of them when they are sick or when school is cancelled. I love to cook healthy foods, and I have the time to go to farmers markets and get fresh produce to use in preparing meals.”
Some retirees take care of their elderly parents. Mr. Aryeh Gross’s mother is 96 years old and lives in Israel. He and his wife Judy spend two days a week with her in the geriatric unit of Laniado Hospital in Netanya. Mr. Gelula’s elderly mother lives here in Baltimore, and now he has more time to spend with her.
New hobbies and volunteer activities are popular retirement activities. Dr. Goldfinger attends art classes at the JCC. “It is my first experience at being the worst in the class,” he quips. He does a lot of reading, and writes articles for various publications. On Monday nights he runs a support group for caregivers of people with dementia. He raises money for the Shaina Leeba Pesach Respite Fund, in memory of his wife, through Gevuras Yarden. This fund provides money for cleaning help for needy families before Pesach.
Mr. Gelula has recently taken on a time-consuming volunteer position as the president of the Ohr Chadash Academy. The job involves raising money for the school, leading the board, and building relationships between the school and the community.
Mrs. Esther Weiner, a relative newcomer to Baltimore, worked as a senior deputy attorney general for the state of New Jersey before moving to Maryland. She dealt with large civil cases, defending the state when it was sued for personal injury in car or train accidents. She also prosecuted polluters, like farmers who leased their land to landfills that did not dispose of their toxic waste properly. While Mrs. Weiner had a very important job and was probably very busy, she says, “I have never been as busy as I am now, despite the fact that I am retired.” She is the president of the board of Northwest Neighbors Connecting, and she just became a member of the board of CHAI. She serves as a doula when she is called and tries to fill all the in-between parts of her day with other kinds of chesed, such as driving people places and making meals for families in need. She also loves to spend time with the grandchildren. “I love it that I can say yes to so many opportunities now that I am retired,” she says.
Robin Sender comments, “I have much more time to focus on myself, both spiritually and physically. I have time to daven with more kavana, and I enjoy listening to shiurim on the Torah Anytime website.” Mrs. Sender plans to become a member of WIT this semester and attend shiurim there. “Sometimes I think that education is wasted on the young,” she says. “Because of my greater life experience, I am interested in learning in order to have knowledge at a much deeper level than when I was a girl just studying for tests.” Mrs. Sender recently joined the Meyerhoff Senior Center, where she hopes to attend exercise classes.
One of the downsides of being retired, for some people, is getting used to living on a smaller or fixed income. “I am much more conscious about spending,” says Mrs. Sender, “because there is much less money coming in.” Although Mrs. Sender feels that she made the right decision by retiring, she also misses the social interaction with her coworkers. “Being retired and home most of the day alone is a bit lonely,” she says.
The Grosses have two children in Israel and two children in Baltimore, and divide their time between the United States and Israel. He mentions having to keep the tax laws in both countries in mind when planning their trips back and forth. If they leave Israel for more than three months, for example, their Israeli social security will be frozen. And they have to be away from the United States for more than 182 days a year to avoid certain tax payments. It takes planning to navigate the laws of both countries.
It was interesting to talk to members of our community who have had productive working lives and are continuing to fill their days with volunteer work, Torah learning, and other pursuits that benefit themselves, their families, and our community. I appreciate their giving me their time and allowing me to interview them and hear about their lives so that you, my readers, can learn about an important segment of the community.