Jewish Journal

Jewels of Elul VIII: Expanding on Mohini

by Lia Mandelbaum

October 5, 2012 | 2:58 pm

I had the honor of being a part of the production team for this years Jewels of Elul VIII.  Craig Taubman started this project eight years ago, to challenge us to use each day as an opportunity for growth and discovery, during the month of Elul and right before High Holidays.  Jewels of Elul are a collection of short stories, anecdotes and introspections. The topic this year was The Art of Aging.

For the Jewels of Elul website, I wrote a piece expanding upon a particular passage.  Out of all twenty-nine Jewels, the one that spoke the most to me was Elul 1: Mohini, written by Rabba Sara Hurwitz.  She is the Dean of Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox institution to ordain women as spiritual leaders.

Elul 1: Mohini

As we age, our brains are hardwired to reject change. We are conditioned to resist new challenges and remain within our comfort zones. However, growing older should not mean that we must exist within self-imposed boundaries.

In the 1960s, President Eisenhower received the gift of a rare, white tiger named Mohini. For years, Mohini lived in the Washington Zoo and spent her days pacing back and forth in a 12-by-12 foot cage. Finally the zoo decided to build her a larger cage so Mohini could run, climb and explore. But when Mohini arrived at her new home, she didn’t rush out, eagerly adapting to her new habitat. Rather, she marked off a 12-by-12 foot square for herself, and paced there until her death, never enjoying the new opportunities in front of her. Mohini exemplifies the classic conditioning most of us live within. Although she was a magnificent, powerful creature, Mohini was convinced her “place” was just a 12-by-12 foot square. We all have the propensity to behave exactly like Mohini. Based on our conditioning, we create invisible cages for ourselves, limiting our lives within their boundaries.

But we don’t have to succumb to our internal imprisonment. Throughout the High Holidays, we will hear the shofar blast. Historically, the shofar signaled the release of all slaves at the end of the Jubilee year. That sound should make us ask, “What enslaves us? What weighs us down? What baggage do we hold onto?” And then, let it go. The High Holidays present us with a tunnel, an opportunity to break free from our self-imposed cages, to find our route to freedom and live life with renewed passion. The shofar inspires us to free the Mohini inside and move beyond our boundaries.

My Response

In Rabba Sara Hurwitz’s Jewel titled “Mohini,” she manages to gracefully and compassionately touch upon the significance of the internal struggles that can present themselves while aging.  Although I am only 29-years-old, I have gained a unique insight into the depths of the aging process through being on the career path of a geriatric social worker, relationships and as a hospice volunteer.  Through what I have observed, some of the challenges include:  the progressive loss of independence, friends frequently passing away, loneliness, constant doctor appointments and the fear of undiagnosed illnesses.  I understand what my grandmother means when she tells me “growing older is not for wimps.”

This piece is meant to acknowledge the reality of how difficult it is to age.  Younger people often don’t understand what it is like, nor do they want to think about it.  It is like the 800-pound gorilla in the room that we all face with our parents but is often not talked about until it becomes a crisis.  There is a major lack of social workers in geriatrics because of their own avoidance with this difficult topic.  I have come to understand the dire importance of facing and understanding the reality of aging, and how it can help us to live more full lives.

I cannot express in words the deep level of respect and admiration I have for those who are walking through the challenges of aging.  While aging can be extremely tough, it is also very beautiful at the same time.  I have also learned that aging does not have to be a struggle, which has a lot to do with one’s attitude and perceptions.

From the words of Rabba Sara Hurwitz, “the High Holidays present us with a tunnel, an opportunity to break free from our self-imposed cages, to find our route to freedom and live life with renewed passion.”  One of the biggest gifts in life is the discovery of our own unique route towards this freedom.


To read all the Jewels, click HERE.

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Lia Mandelbaum is getting her degree in social work at California State University-Los Angeles, and has an internship at Barbour & Floyd Mental Health Services.

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