[Originally published in the Atlanta Jewish Times]

Rebbe Eliezar famously said in the Talmud to “Repent One Day Before Your Death.” I often think about this idea in my work at Jewish HomeLife (JHLC), where many of the people we serve are nearing the end of their days. When faced with a serious medical problem, or reaching the later stages of life, or during the High Holy Days, we are more likely to think about dying. Yet Rebbe Eliezar’s teaching would require us to think about death every day, since none of us knows when we will die. Wouldn’t thinking about dying all the time be depressing?

After working in the field of aging for forty years, I have learned that being able to speak about death is liberating, and helps each of us to better appreciate each day we are living. Most of us get caught up with our daily challenges and routines, and tend to forget this. Only when we are confronted with a crisis are we jarred into remembering that no one is guaranteed to be alive tomorrow. Every day of life is a gift.

Those that are sick, frail or debilitated are reminded of life’s preciousness each moment. Fred Rogers, the creator of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, understood this. Rogers once asked a 14 year-old boy whose cerebral palsy left him sometimes unable to walk or talk, to pray for him. The boy had never been asked this. He had been the object of prayers many times, but not one person had ever asked him to pray for another. When complimented about cleverly boosting the boy’s self-esteem with this request, Rogers replied, “I didn’t ask him to for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked because I wanted his intercession.”

And this is why caring for the people we serve at JHLC is so inspiring. Wherever our amazing team members are assisting someone –in our nursing home, independent and assisted living communities, or when our hospice or private caregivers provide support in the home– we find people who know that because they may not be here tomorrow, they appreciate every single blessing of today.

L’shanah tova.

Harley Tabak
President & CEO
Jewish HomeLife