Growing Older, Assessing Life
SimchaGuest Column

Growing Older, Assessing Life

Rabbi David Geffen's recalls acts of kindness as 79th birthday approaches.

Rabbi David Geffen

Rabbi David Geffen is a native Atlantan and Conservative rabbi who lives in Jerusalem.

At Piedmont Hospital on Crumley Street on the South Side of Atlanta, I came into the world on Nov. 1, 1938.

Anna, my mother, who repeated this story many times, told the doctor I had to be born that day because she had not bought a birthday present for her husband and my father, Louis. He also was born on Nov. 1, but on New York’s Lower East Side. His brit milah was on the day Teddy Roosevelt was re-elected, Nov. 8, 1904, so it had to be held late in the day so that everyone, who was eligible, could vote.

Sitting here thinking about my 79th birthday, just weeks away, I wonder where all the years have gone.

All of us pass through various stages. Sometimes they are easy, sometimes very difficult. I cannot really identify the periods of good and bad in my life, but here I am.

A rabbi I knew well wrote the following, and I have tried to live up to his poignant words:

In judging life let us understand that:

Much as we need something to live with,

we need even more, something to live for.

If our lives are not to become spiritual dust-bowls,

we need regular replenishment from the

waters of study, reverence, caring and unselfishness.

Happiness resides not in things but in ourselves.

There is no adventure as exciting as the adventure

of a mind and a soul which never stop growing.

There is no better exercise for the spirit than

bending down to help lift someone up.

The greatest endowment we give our children

is the example of an upright life.

The best portions of a good person’s life

are as the poet said: “His little nameless unremembered

acts of kindness and love.”

If this be our judgement of life, our faith need not

come in moments. It can be the steady quality of

life through which each of us can fill our

days by developing responsibility, increasing happiness

and love each and every day.

I am fortunate that many of my friends from high school and college who were from Atlanta still live in Atlanta.

I was a bit adventurous, so I can enjoy Atlanta only from afar. However, the “little nameless unremembered acts of kindness” of my friends I do recall.

When I first entered the James L. Key School on the South Side in 1946, when my father returned from overseas and brought my mother and me back to Atlanta, I felt very lonely because I did not know anyone. Several of the Jewish boys and girls in my second-grade class encouraged me, brought me to their homes and played with me.

When we moved to the North Side and I entered Morningside School in the middle of the year, I really knew only one or two classmates. Again, they offered me such kindness.

They asked me to ride their bikes with them. They arranged dances on Friday, not Saturday/Shabbat, so I could be there.

I was awkward and had trouble dancing, but I recall one girl in particular who came over to me when I was the only male wallflower and asked me to dance. Was I excited.

When Boy Scout Troop 73 began, both Joe Zimmerman and Josiah Benator invited me to join. I always feel sad about Mr. Zimmerman, but I delight in maintaining contact with Mr. Benator, who I believe is a very special human being.

At Grady High School, I can recall making many wonderful friends who treated me as if they had known me all their lives. Many of them are friends to this day because, thankfully, they can still enjoy their lives.

I wanted to be in AZA Chapter No. 134, but for some reason I was not invited to join. Then an active member of the chapter said to me, “David, I have arranged for you to become a member of No. 134.”

That special act of his transformed into many years, even beyond high school, of active participation on many levels of BBYO.

To this day, I always think about some of these “unremembered acts” that were so special in my life. I believe strongly that my friends in Atlanta have lived up to the words of a poet I love to quote:

Why build these cities glorious

when man unbuilded goes

In vain we build an order

unless the builder also grows.

I want to thank all my Atlanta friends, who in their way have made my life so very full and meaningful. Todah rabah. May your lives continue in ways you choose to make them as beautiful as you feel they should be.

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