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Should President Biden retire? Old Jewish men offer advice

President Joe Biden, age 81, faces pressure to step down as the Democratic Party’s nominee in the 2024 election. Three active octogenarians have some thoughts

President Joe Biden says he’s staying in the race for president, even as many Democratic voters and an increasing number politicians and commentators say it’s time for him to realize the limitations that age has wrought — and step aside.

But what do old Jewish men think?  

We went back to the panel of old Jewish men we talked to on the president’s 80th birthday — in November of 2022. Then, most of them said Biden should accept that he couldn’t do everything he once could, and that he should enjoy his family. None suggested he was too old to do his job, though.

What are they saying now?

‘Turn over the keys’

Tom Freudenheim
Tom Freudenheim Courtesy of Tom Freudenheim

Tom Freudenheim, a former museum administrator who lives in Manhattan, just celebrated his 87th birthday by baking himself a cake to share with his wife, Leslie. He said he’s enjoyed being retired for over 20 years and “love[s] being an old man.” He’s now writing himself into his family’s history from the couple’s country house, and taking breaks to travel.

He said he knows his traveling days are numbered though, as are his driving days — and that he won’t want to turn over the keys. But he will, he said. “It’s other people’s lives that are at stake.” 

That is the same advice Freudenheim has for Biden — except he said, the whole country is at stake. Octogenarians have a “responsibility to accept their age and be grateful that they’re around,” he said.

‘Word puzzles’

Rabbi James Rudin
Rabbi James Rudin Courtesy of Saint Leo University

Rabbi James Rudin, 89, tries to play tennis nearly daily with his wife since he retired 24 years ago from the Air Force, where he was a chaplain. Off the court, he writes and lectures, and delves into Jewish texts he finds particularly interesting.

He declined to say whether he thought Biden should stop running for president. 

But he did want Biden to focus on fitness, and looked at the mesorah, or tradition, of past presidents on the matter. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was disabled and couldn’t walk, Rudin noted, yet maintained his strength by swimming. And President Harry S. Truman did press interviews while walking around the White House grounds. Biden should keep moving, Rudin said, and do “word puzzles.”

Staying fit, he added, is an “obligation to the voters of America.”

‘You let them bounce’

Bernie Buzgon
Bernie Buzgon Courtesy of Bernie Buzgon

Bernie Buzgon, an 87-year-old insurance lawyer, said he feels more strongly about the advice he gave Biden more than 18 months ago: it’s important to know when to slow down.

Buzgon golfs, plays tennis, and bikes daily.

“Someday they’ll carry me off in my sneakers,” he joked. But he said he also knows that, at his age, it’s important not to push it. 

“I know sometimes those drop shots, you let them bounce, you let them bounce again, you let them roll.” He takes a similar philosophy to work. He still goes to his Pennsylvania law office nearly every day, but refers most of the work to others, and spends half the year in Florida.

He said he loves Biden “dearly,” but he needs to bow out of the race. 

“For the sake of his legacy and for the sake of retaining our democracy as we know it and cherish it.”

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