Living With Dorothy

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11 Jun 2009

When I moved in with Dorothy, my friends were in shock. We were just graduating college and most were planning to live in the more popular destination of Washington Heights, with other young singles. Moving in with Dorothy meant I would remain in Midtown Manhattan. Mostly, though, the astonishment was because I was 22, and Dorothy, or Mrs. Hilf, as I call her, was 95.

After graduating from Stern College I received an invitation from Mrs. Hilf to share her one-bedroom apartment. She wanted company and had a prime piece of real estate, but I’ll admit I was hesitant to accept. My mother urged me to say yes. My good friends could not fathom why I would even consider the offer. (I did share the rent, but then again, we were rent controlled.)

While I would be at a distance from my friends, there were significant advantages to the proposal, and I eventually decided to move in. My boyfriend Moshe (now husband) worked a block away, the commute to graduate school was convenient, and I absolutely loved the bustle and convenience of New York City (and living right in the center of it). My friends thought Mrs. Hilf would benefit more. Little did they know it was me who would gain the most.

I met Mrs. Hilf through my good friend and college roommate Melissa. Mrs. Hilf and Melissa were learning partners at a synagogue, and Melissa thought I would enjoy meeting Mrs. Hilf. She was right. We hit it off right away, and I began visiting her weekly. The plan was usually to do some religious learning at our meetings, perhaps review the prayer book or study the weekly Torah portion, but more often than not, we just schmoozed.

Living with Mrs. Hilf, we talked about politics, literature, and life. I confided in her about my personal life. She offered sage advice. After one particularly upsetting incident with Moshe, I recall coming home in a rage, ready to have it out with him and give him a piece of my mind. Mrs. Hilf talked with me, calmed me down and told me, quite to the point, to get over it. Who knows if my relationship with Moshe would be where it is today if not for Mrs. Hilf.

She tells it like it is. When I ask for her opinion, I know that I’ll get the unadulterated truth. I love that. In a world where everyone is concerned with being politically correct, Mrs. Hilf prizes honesty and sincerity.

Even more than that though, Mrs. Hilf taught me that age doesn’t matter. She showed me that a positive attitude and a deep thankfulness for all we have are most important. She is a paragon of what it means to be self sufficient. Now 101, may she live and be well, she lives alone, does her own marketing, emails her friends, and volunteers weekly at a soup kitchen. She even hosts Sabbath meals in her apartment from time to time. She appreciates when I stock her up on groceries and when Melissa delivers home-cooked meals, but she never expects anything.

When I lived in an apartment, newly married, I made some younger friends. They’re only in their eighties. Before we moved, Mollie and Leah lived down the hall in our building, and for five years we shared in each other’s joys and bonded over tragedies. I borrowed onions and delivered chicken soup, and they played with my daughter Leba and introduced her to the piano.

My mother taught me – both in word and deed – that we can learn much from our seniors. She visited the nursing home and made time to call on relatives and older friends who were not well. For years, my mother had a study partner in his eighties. To this day, she reads aloud her notes from those sessions and reminisces with fondness over the erudition he displayed and the thoughts he shared with her.

I suppose growing up in a home with grandparents helped establish my love and respect for the older generation. I miss them terribly now that they have passed on, and am sorry that I didn’t appreciate their presence even more. They cared for me with so much love and, like Mrs. Hilf, never asked for anything in return.

I continue to visit Mrs. Hilf most weeks, and try to bring Leba along with me when I can. If I can instill within my daughter a respect and admiration for our elders, perhaps she too will look to those generations for guidance and love. And when I see her greeting Mrs. Hilf with a hug and a kiss, I know we’re on the right track.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.