Old Jewish men offer President Biden advice on his 80th birthday
Happy birthday to Joe Biden! After a whirlwind week at Bali’s G20 Summit and Thailand’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the president turns 80 on Nov. 20. The Forward asked Jewish men of a certain age what advice they have for him as he enters his ninth decade. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
‘Get a life’
Tom Freudenheim is 85 and “not gainfully employed” — a status he’d like to see President Biden adopt. That’s not because the retired museum administrator has any political objections to the president. He just thinks it’s time for the guy to ease up.
“First of all, relax,” he said he’d tell the president. “And, quote, get a life!”
Freudenheim said the president shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking he has to keep up his current pace, or his office.
“The advantage to being old is you don’t have to be as important as you used to be,” he said from the Manhattan home he shares with his wife, Leslie. “I enjoy not having to show up anywhere except my doctor appointments and my lunch dates. I am past my shelf life and I can handle that.”
But neither does Freudenheim think a more laid-back life should be devoid of responsibilities. A powerful person in his or her 80s — say, the leader of the free world — should mentor younger people and let them take star billing.
“If you have been doing something all your life that you care about then you should care that it continues, even if you are not the one doing it,” he said. “If you hog the stage, that is not going to happen.”
Many of his friends think of stepping back as a come-down, Freudenheim said. But to him, it is a blessing. “You have to get over the vanity of thinking you are the only person in the world who can do your job, even if you think the world is going to fall apart.”
‘I want to quote some Satchel Paige’
Rabbi James Rudin, 88, and recently knighted by Pope Francis for his work on Jewish-Catholic relations, would have Biden consider Psalm 90 and Psalm 71. The latter reads: “Cast me not off in the time of old age; When my strength faileth, forsake me not.”
How would Rabbi Rudin have Biden, a practicing Catholic, interpret them?
“When you get into your 80s, you see the finish line coming,” he said from his home on Sanibel Island, Florida. “So each day is precious and you really have to ask, what are my values? What am I leaving behind for friends and family?
“We have a limited horizon and you have to face that. That doesn’t mean you get depressed; that means the journey of life is coming to an end sooner rather than later so are you going to use your time wisely — which you should have been doing all your life.”
That limited horizon should inspire people to make better choices, he said.
Rudin added a non-biblical addendum.
“Then I want to quote some Satchel Paige,” he said, referring to the great Negro Leagues baseball star and Hall of Famer. “He said, ‘Never look back because they might be gaining on you.’ Just keep looking forward.”
Grandchildren sans parents
Entrepreneur Howie Jacobs, who will turn 89 next month, is quick to point out he is not retired, but manufactures magnetic picture frames. He has two words for the president: water volleyball.
“I am in the swimming pool three mornings a week,” he said from his 55-and-older community in Clifton, New Jersey. “It is wonderful exercising and we do a lot of kibitzing. He should try it.”
Jacobs and his wife of 42 years, Roz, head a blended family of six children. “We were the original Brady Bunch,” he said. “We each had three children and a dog. The only thing we didn’t have was a maid.”
Those children had children, and that leads to his second bit of advice: President and Mrs. Biden should take a vacation with each of their grandchildren, one at a time. The Jacobs did this for each of their 14 grandchildren on the occasion of their 10th birthdays. They saw five national parks, various U.S. cities and ventured into Canada.
“I am not sure how old Biden’s grandchildren are, but having a week alone with each grandchild without their parents was an amazing experience,” he said. “They were just totally open with us.”
Next week, he will sit down to Thanksgiving with his entire family — all 36 of them. And that’s what he wants for the president, too.
“That would be the No. 1 thing,” he said. “Enjoy your family. I wish that for everybody in the world.”
‘Go take a shower and have a drink’
Bernie Buzgon, 85, is an insurance lawyer from Lebanon, Pennsylvania, who still goes to the office, rides a bike and plays tennis three times a week. He also has a healthy appreciation for the zinger. “I have a very good memory for names,” he said. “What’s your name again?”
His advice for Biden is wrapped in a tennis metaphor — one that sounds suspiciously like a political recommendation: “In former days, when you were serving the ball and the opposition placed a drop shot across the net back to you, you would run and try to return it across the net,” he said from his condo in Sarasota, Florida.
“But I think when you are 80, you have to think, ‘Let it drop. Let it bounce. Let it roll.’”
In other words, “you can’t do what you used to do. You gotta understand that,” he said. “Go take a shower and have a drink.”
And one more thing: “After age 80, don’t complain about the aches and pains you have upon awakening in the morning,” he said. “If you don’t have them, you are dead.”