Studies have shown a serious discrepancy between the way we perceive older men (distinguished and sexually viable) and older women (sexless and unhealthy). But Judaism reverses things; women increase in value, in fact, the older they get.
In a recent Buzzfeed-style video, the AARP asked a handful of millennials to imitate “old people” doing a range of activities, from jumping jacks to crossing a street.
One young woman in track pants and ballet slippers does an “old person” pushup by collapsing on the floor in a heap. Three guys asked to read text messages squint at their imaginary phones; one of them actually scratches his head in mock bewilderment. They move in bent-over slow motion when asked to be “old,” aping a cartoonish style that’d be perfectly at home in a high school production of Our Town.
The video is depressing but it’s hardly surprising.
Ageist stereotypes are deeply embedded in the popular imagination. Even the words we use — “seniors,” “elderly,” etc. — connote reductionist old-school Geritol commercials rather than convey a vibrant, dynamic range of experience.
Yet that dynamism is, in fact, the reality for older adults; how could it not be, given that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 65-and-older population in the U.S. went from 44.7 million in 2013 to 46.2 million in 2014? That’s a lot of people to lump under a single banner.
Such labels hit women especially hard, as they’re already subject to gender bias. Studies have shown a serious discrepancy between the way we perceive older men (distinguished and sexually viable) and older women (sexless and unhealthy).
But Judaism reverses things; women increase in value, in fact, the older they get. An adage derived from Leviticus goes, “An old man in the house is a burden but an old woman in the house is a treasure.”
Here are five terrific Jewish women “of a certain age” who make all restrictive labels obsolete. They’re blogging, publishing, rowing, teaching, singing — they’re busy busy busy. They’re decidedly out of the house — and that’s precisely what makes them the treasures they are.
Name: Ellen Carver
Currently: Lower Merion
What you’re doing now: “I am president and co-director of the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta, which is Philadelphia’s largest regatta. I came to rowing late in life beginning 18 years ago. I joined a learn-to-row program, had an excellent coach and, the second I got into a boat I fell in love, and began rowing every morning.
“My first race was the Head of the Schuylkill, in a quad with other women from my learn-to-row program. Fast forward to 2009 … a friend asked me to help with publicity for the regatta. It had just gone from a one-day race to two days and needed visibility and some creativity. The opportunity to build something was always a trigger for me so I dove in.
“[Since I started with the regatta] we changed the culture of it, expanded the volunteer corps that now numbers more than 350, continued to increase competition, the number of spectators and sponsorship. In 2015 we had more than 8,500 competitors and an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 spectators.
“This is a huge undertaking with a gazillion moving parts. It is truly a labor of love. We bring people to the city from 10 countries and 29 states, fill hotel rooms, and everyone has a great time. Can you think of anything better?”
Your favorite things about growing older: “Perhaps it’s the opportunity to keep reinventing myself. I love the idea of being able to do something like immersing myself in rowing and the rowing community. I am also so lucky to be able to go back to the studio and do artwork, my first love and something I put on the back burner because I was too busy raising three children, volunteering and working full time.
“A very favorite thing about growing older is realizing things about myself — and what I’ve learned. It’s not really about what you’ve done but what you’ve learned and being in a position to pass some of that along — whether it’s to a child, someone you work with, someone you row with.
“Sometimes I am accused of lecturing, but I am passionate about passing on the wisdom of ‘gray hair’ (not!) to those I care about the most. And, saving the best for last, being married to the same person for all these years and the opportunity to grow older together.”
Name: Dotty Brown
Hometown: Scarsdale, N.Y.
Currently: Merion Station
Age: “65 plus plus”
What you’re doing now: “I spent 30 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer, mostly as an editor in various capacities. My last job was editor for print and multimedia.
“I took my new multimedia experience and decided to start a blog when I left the paper in 2011 on a subject I myself was facing: what to do with the rest of my life. I began interviewing people about their transition to what I called ‘the next great thing.’ Then, out of the blue, Temple University Press came to me and asked me to do a book on the history of Boathouse Row. (They asked me because of my journalism background and also because I had taken up later-in-life rowing.)
“Surprisingly, no such book existed. I loved digging through old minute books and interviewing lots of folks who spearheaded the fight for women to get onto the water (the boat clubs had no women until the 1970s, with the exception of the pioneering Philadelphia Girls Rowing club, which was all women).
“But that’s just one chapter in a book that also looks at Thomas Eakins (himself a rower); the impact of architect Frank Furness (few people realize he designed Undine Barge Club and had a great impact on the Row’s architecture); the Kelly legacy; the unbelievable 1964 Olympic win by Vesper, and some great people like Edward T. Stotesbury, who is only now remembered for a regatta (the least of his Philadelphia contributions), and Joe Burk (a big name in Philadelphia in the 1940s). My book comes out in October.”
Your favorite things about growing older: “Challenging myself in ways I never have before.”
Name: Peggy King
Hometown: Greensburg, Pa.
Currently: “Downtown Philadelphia”
What you’re doing now: “I went into several years of depression following the death of my husband and then the unexpected suicide of my bipolar son, Jonathan, in 2000.
“I lost any interest in singing until just a few years ago, when I happened to hear a local Philadelphia jazz group, the All-Star Jazz Trio, headed by Andy Kahn, Bruce Kaminsky and Bruce Klauber. I started sitting in with them occasionally and gradually started doing some gigs around town. That led to official ‘comeback’ engagements at 54 Below in NYC and the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood.
“I’m still performing and recently released my first new CD in more than 35 years, Songs a La King, on Fresh Sound Records.”
Your favorite things about growing older: “My favorite thing about growing older is that I am a true survivor. I no longer have to prove anything and can enjoy my life for how it is now. I have the love of my daughter, Suzy, the joy of still being able to sing (the thing I most love doing), and the support of both old fans and new who still flock to my performances.”
Name: Rosalie Minkin
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
What you’re doing now: “For 30 years I created socio-drama programs for drug treatment centers, hospitals, community organizations and educational institutions. I taught sociodrama to corporations, lawyers, financial planners, youth offenders, police departments and members of street gangs.
“Years ago I founded an intergenerational socio-drama troupe called Full Circle and a teen group called The Choice Connection. Now I’ve completed two manuals titled The Art of Sociodrama.
“Simply stated, sociodrama refers to the drama of our society. No one in the group enacts personal issues but plays a role related to a social theme. I want to use sociodrama in corporations here, teaching how to work together, as well as use it in school systems.
“I shall never retire. I paint, sketch and am currently seeking a consulting position. I also have six grandkids, all of whom love playing on the floor with me. After all the challenges in my life, I make sure I smile.”
Your favorite things about growing older: “I am an elder, not an old lady. My new mantra at this age is: ‘When I follow my passion, I am here to stay.’”
Name: Sharon Geller
Currently: Center City
Age: “Old enough to be included in this article.”
What you’re doing now: “After spending 10 years in the corporate world, I followed my heart and decided to pursue acting.
“I’m a comedic actress who’s appeared on Saturday Night Live four times. My radio and TV commercials have won awards, my character voices can be heard on Fox TV’s cartoon, The Centsables, and I’m in the East Coast touring company of Old Jews Telling Jokes. In addition to appearing on QVC as a spokeswoman, I teach comedy improv at the Walnut Street Theatre.
“I also present an ‘Improv for Lawyers’ workshop at Drexel, at the American Bar Association and at legal firms around the country and do workshops in corporate communications. This summer, I’ll portray Sarah Palin in my show, The Debate of the Century: Trump vs. Clinton, Moderated by Sarah Palin, at the Democratic National Convention.”
Your favorite things about growing older: “Senior discounts, being old enough to be in Old Jews Telling Jokes and my cougar status.”