May 20, 2009
It Requires Some Work to Ensure a Happy Retirement
Although most working stiffs imagine retired life to be heaven, “A life of incessant recreation and indolence is enough to drive any business entity like you or me mad after 3.5 years. And after you go mad you get old. And nobody who is old enjoys his retirement,” columnist Stanley Bing wrote in the June 23, 2006, issue of Forbes magazine. “No, in order to make your ostensibly golden years work for you, you have to pursue a strategic plan as rigorous as any you implemented when your hair was as full and bushy as your ambitions.”
While much literature in America focuses on the financial aspects of retirement, all the seniors interviewed for this article — seemingly happy and well adjusted — had secrets of their own to share for how to transition successfully to the next stage of life.
The Sharfmans had intended to move to Florida, staying on the East Coast to be near their children. But after their daughter, Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman, moved to Arizona, they followed.
“I couldn’t imagine living in Florida now,” Barbara Sharfman said.
“I’m always the oldest person wherever I go,” she said.
Lorraine and Ira Kurtze are rather busy in Las Vegas, where they moved three years ago. There are the live shows — they get free tickets — dance clubs and an endless stream of visitors from the East Coast.
“I don’t know how I did it when I was working,” Lorraine Kurtze said. “Here I get up, I sit outside and have my coffee on the golf course [which is her backyard], go to the gym and then go out. I think the clue is to go places and meet people.”
The Kurtzes also travel often, visiting their son in California and daughter in New York.
“Everyone teases us we need a camper, not a house,” Lorraine Kurtze said.
That’s what Palm Springs snowbird Rabbi Yaacov Rone does.
“I may be retired in the sense that I don’t go into work, but I do things that are very rewarding,” he said.
The Conservative rabbi, who worked as a congregational rabbi for 27 years and then was involved in organizational work, volunteers with State of Israel Bonds, the New York Board of Rabbis’ chaplaincy division, the Jewish National Fund and other projects — about 20 hours a week.
“Truthfully, to me retired means not having a 9-to-5 job or a fixed schedule,” Rone said. “It doesn’t mean sitting around and playing golf. It means being very active and giving back to the community.”
Zweig oversees 70 volunteers, healthy seniors ages 60 to 70. Her volunteers visit the elderly, lead Shabbat for them and build relationships.
“These are retired people who volunteer along with their mahjongg and their golf,” she said.
The relationships benefit both the volunteer and the visited.
“It’s for someone who wants to give back,” Zweig said. “It’s not for everyone.”
Gordon, a Midwesterner, lives in Sun City in Palm Desert, but as a Hadassah chair, she gets out a lot, including traveling often to visit her family in Northern California, Florida and China.
“People never know where to find me — I could be in China or in Florida,” she joked.
She knows many seniors who “climb in their shell,” but it doesn’t make them happy.
“I have one good friend,” Gordon said, “if I don’t drag her by the hair, she stays in all day.”
“They have this fantasy that they would see their children and grandchildren more if they were near them, but our children and grandchildren are busy with their own lives,” Pine said.
Her advice is to surround yourself with friends.
“Being with people,” Pine said, “is the most important ingredient in anything.”
She’s kidding — sort of. Palestine has been happily married to Arnie for 59 years. The real secret to their happiness is mutual respect.
“Jean knows everything and everyone,” said Arnie Palestine, 86.
“Look at his art, he’s so talented,” said his 80-year-old wife, gesturing to the watercolors, oil paintings and sketches that fill up every wall of their two-bedroom condo — even a hand-painted mural outside.
“We don’t take pictures of our kids,” she added. “We love our kids, but I’d rather look at my husband’s artwork.”
“She met a rabbi from Portland, and they became an item,” Gordon said. The rabbi boyfriend was killed in an automobile accident, and the friend “went right back on JDate again.”
“I decided at the age of 50 I was going to learn something new every year,” she said.
When she turned 50, she learned how to swim. Over the years, she has learned computers, knitting, crocheting and, last year, they started round dancing.
“I like adding new energy into my life,” Pine said.
Exercise is key, of course, and it’s never too late to begin keeping in shape. Sharfman coaches high school wrestling in Scottsdale.
“The dinosaurs didn’t survive because they didn’t adapt,” he said. “We must learn to adapt” physically, emotionally and spiritually when transitioning into retirement.