the elders of the tribe


In western society, the population seems to be more splintered all the time. It didn’t take too long to move from ‘self realization’ to ‘every man for himself’, and there seems to be a steady increase of alternative families, which include a great many ‘single parent’ families.

Good or bad, I don’t know. I don’t know such families intimately. But I very much appreciate the traditional family structure, in which the family unit often includes different generations, cousins, and distant relatives. Everyone has their place, and everyone has their special talents which are available and advantageous to the whole family structure.

I photographed the above scene more than a generation ago, at a family get together. These old men were well placed on a porch, overlooking the festivities, but a wee bit removed. They didn’t understand all of the interests of the young, but conducted a very interesting discussion among themselves, modestly, with the characteristic reservation of wisdom. From time to time, younger members of the family visited with them, paying their respects. Nowadays things are different. When we have a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah in the family, the music is so loud it is next to impossible to have a serious conversation round the table. I’m one of the old men now, so I don’t understand most of what interests the young. But that little niche that used to be provided for the old is no more. Sometimes, I’m just not brave enough to attend.


49 responses to “the elders of the tribe

  1. Good Morning Dear Shimon, I don’t understand too… But I should say this, I don’t understand today’s human too… Nothing is easy for me now… As if all good/nice things remained in our memories… I try to be possitive, but realities in the world don’t let me be too positive…

    Thank you, wonderful post and photograph. Have a nice day and weekend and new week, Love, nia

    • Good morning, dear Nia. I don’t think that what’s nice is just in our memories… it seems that way at times, but there are still many nice, beautiful and wonderful sights and sounds and connections around us. It’s just that as we grow older we have extra filters around us for self protection, expectations too. And having lived a bit, we’re no longer taken in by some of the magic that once delighted us. But as old as we get, there is always the wonder of watching a rose bloom or a cat strutting through chaos with a sense of purpose. with love to you and thanks.

  2. This is absolutely true, I can speak for America anyway. You still find some pockets of strong family structure but not much. Which I believe will lead to our destruction. When I grew up family was all that mattered. I was very close to my mother’s parents. My father left home very young to work in NYand really never looked back. Sad. He came from Colorado and I never met his parents. Now no one has that warm connection that makes us want to help each other understand. I am losing my son, who lives with a ‘New Age’ young woman, because of this. Guess you hit a sore spot for me here! Sorry to ramble on.

    • No need to apologize for rambling, ekurie. I do it myself all the time, and besides; I like to imagine us all sitting around a table with all the time on our hands, and just following our thoughts. Regarding family structure, actually I’m one of the very lucky. The society I live in is family and community structured. But I’m aware of what’s happening on the wider scene… and there are other cities here in Israel where people take pride in what is called ‘the new family’. And though our family is close and my grandchildren do visit, we did have a celebration recently when I chose not to attend because I don’t feel so comfortable anymore at these celebrations. But there are other old folks who do attend. I wrote about it because it did seem a sign of the times.

  3. That is such a striking photo, Shimon. A classic in every way. And your observations are spot on. I certainly recognise the fragmented family in my culture. Also the isolation of the generations. I’m wondering now if we in England ever had an acknowledged elderhood. Certainly the Industrial Revolution put paid to so much community life, and in the days when I did attend Church of England services (as a child and by myself in fact) I don’t remember seeing much trace of it.

    It was one of the things that most impressed me when I went to live in Africa – the respect paid to elders, though even there it had been much eroded – through colonialism followed by increased westernisation.

    • Thanks for the appreciation of the photo, Tish. Glad you liked it. I think the family, the clan, and subcultures very important both for the individual and for the health of society. In almost every society we have known until the industrial revolution, the family was important. And even recently in the west, the well to do, the rich, retain their family connections. It was during the years of slavery, and the industrial revolution that people learned to live apart, to take advantage of the best job opportunities and so on. We are poorer for it, at least emotionally. If we don’t go back to the family, I believe that people will develop a new version of family type units which will enable us more stable relationships. I have the feeling that we haven’t yet grasped how radical the changes are about to be.

      • We’ve also lost some of the protecting sinews that extended family and clan provide. Divided into separate households as we tend to be in the UK, and the members within that household further divided as they remain attached to their personal gadgets (and from infancy these days too), we are easier to rule, distract and befuddle.

        • Oh, I have the feeling that we human beings are always easy to distract and befuddle. Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the nature of leadership and control within society… more from the anthropological viewpoint. I might write about that soon on the blog though sometimes it seems easier just to post a picture.

  4. I feel many of the younger generation in our family humor the older generations by saying an obligatory hello and moving on. Some will stay, and talk, I feel if I show an interest in their life, what they are doing, they will engage in conversation. I would like to be part of their lives, but I see they look at us like old people they would rather not bother with. I always enjoyed sitting and talking with the older generation. Have a shabbat shalom Shimon

    • I wasn’t really complaining, Lisa-Elisheva. It was more an awareness of changes in what might be considered a fairly conservative society. If anything, I think it’s the youth who are losing out by not getting to know the old folks better. For me, the old were definitely an inspiration and a source of learning. But who knows. Maybe the young don’t need old timers anymore. I recently saw a documentary which showed that some Japanese men prefer a life size doll to having a woman partner in life. Maybe after the demand for life like artificial women will be satisfied, they’ll move on to making gramps and grandmas who’re ‘better than live’, and we’ll be able to put them in the closet when we don’t need them. Have a very good week.

  5. I’m very sorry to say that I know exactly what you’re saying.

    • Yes, it’s part of the ongoing changes we see all around. But it’s hard to guess where it’s going. What we see now won’t be permanent. It’s like the transition we went through when we climbed down out of the trees, but hadn’t learned yet to build our own homes…
      Thanks for the comment, Paol.

  6. I so have to agree with what you say Shimon. You have to wonder…will the pendulum swing the other way? Maybe in generations to come, it will be the way things were? Not for me to know. I will be long gone by then…

    • I do believe in the pendulum theory of progress Loisa, but I have my doubts whether they’ll ever be a return to the traditional family. A century ago, people started asking what would happen in a future society when machines did all the work. What we’ve seen meantime, is a greater emphasis on the individual and a break down of the family. Just as the horseless carriage is now about to be replaced by the autonomous vehicle, I suspect that eventually our descendents will see the development of a different sort of family. For we are still social animals and the dynamics of family haven’t yet been replaced. Thanks for your comment.

  7. I am so moved by this post, friend Shimon … I also know about honouring elders … kiss that hand and touch your forehead … Done it many times … Last time I was in Europe, a lil child came and did the same honour gesture to me for the very first time … I am 62 years old and consider myself young. Anyway, much love … cat.

    • I too loved the old folks when I was young, cat. And I feel sorry for the youth of today who don’t have the advantage of an age integrated social environment. But since we all want a ‘better world’, I have a feeling that folks will eventually find something that answers that very human need. You’re still a young woman, my friend, and I hope you continue to enjoy your life each day for many years to come. With love to you too.

  8. I think it happens to all of us. That is, as we get old, there is a tendency to withdraw because of differences of the time. They aren’t easy to accept, then again, when the roles were reversed, the elders had the same thoughts.

    • Yes, there’s no avoiding change Frank, whether on the individual or the social plane. Personally, I find it rather easy to accept, but I worry at times about the youth of today… that they will find themselves a little boxed in by the rules and standards of society. But still we’re in the midst of a transition, and I imagine that time will bring new solutions for most of our needs. Thanks for coming by.

      • Generational differences has always but a concern. My fear is the same as other fears throughout history – the fear that the younger generation forget the lessons learned by the previous generation.

  9. What you describe Shimon, is extant. I firmly believe that music is played too loud so that the captive audience will find it difficult to hear wrong notes, bad playing and other noisy inexactitudes. It is selfish and does not take account of the differing needs of the guests.

    We were at a wedding where the band were asked several times to reduce their volume. Five minutes,then, volume was thundered out, every time, like a ‘ yah boo’……offensive I think.

    On the dais where the wedding party had sat feasting, remained an elderly couple from Lebanon. They did look isolated. We sat with them and learned so much about their family life. We asked them to join us at an empty table on the edge of the dance floor and requested tea. You could have knocked me down with a feather….several younger people joined us, then pushing a table next to ours, more people connected. By the time tea arrived the whole of the extended family, plus us, were having a great time socialising togethwe.. Even the music, at the far end of the hall now, could not interfere.

    Shabbat shalom

    • Very interesting what you say menhir. I was thinking that maybe the young had a more sensual relationship to the music; wanted to feel the vibrations in their extremities as well as their ears… But maybe you’re right. It could be a cover up for poor music, or maybe an aid in mass hypnotism. But as your story reveals, we still do have that basic need for companionship… and who knows, maybe like minds will find common ground eventually, and maybe someday banquet halls will have soundproof rooms for those who still like to converse. Thanks for your comment and shavua tov to you.

  10. Toda, Shimon, for sharing your perspective.. if only we had the same powers of foresight as we do with hindsight.

    • I so agree with you Amit. And if we had that foresight, we surely would have less dismay at the changes we see. Because I have little doubt as to the nature of man to develop frameworks for our basic needs, and we are certainly a social animal. Thanks for the comment.

  11. For an old man, you do know how to express. I’m an old man now and I never Did understand it. If you don’t mind, tell me about the hat the man on the right is wearing. Name? Religious?

    • Thanks for your kind words Bob. Religious and traditional Jewish men always wear a head covering, usually a skull cap or a hat. It is common to wear a skull cap within the home and a hat outdoors, but in the last few generations many have worn a skull cap outside as well. The headgear on the man to the right is just like that my grandfather used to wear, and it was considered a skullcap which could also be worn outside. We don’t see many of those these days… but I still have my grandfather’s skull cap in a drawer.

  12. My former best friend pointed out to me that I was wearing old lady shoes. Being a month younger than me, she felt entitled. Flat, comfortable lace ups are sensible. Ask any orthopaedic surgeon. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but I just feel that no matter how fragmented we’ve become as a society people are the same. Give love and respect to your children and you’ll get them back with interest one day.

    • I hope you didn’t throw your old friend out the door just because of her criticism of your shoes, Mary. But I can tell you in the winter months, I try to find the shoes most comfortable for walking. In the summer, I like to wear sandals. Aside from that, I concur with your thoughts on relationships. respect and love are the keys to continuous relationships…and bring happiness as well.

  13. When I was young, we children would sit at our own special table during large family gatherings: near the adults, but not with them. We could hear their conversations, and we weren’t ignored, but being allowed to join the adults at the ‘big table’ was a gift that was offered only when we were considered mature enough to take the step.

    In the same way, we sat at the edges of adult conversation on the front porch, and listened. We learned not to laugh at old people (at least, not in their presence) and we learned that we owed them respect — no matter how silly we considered their opinions or their actions. We were children, and we were expected to behave in certain ways.

    When I think about what’s changed, it seems to me it’s not necessarily specific family structures as much as it is our reversal of the roles of child and adult. Too many parents don’t want to be parents; they want to be their children’s friends. Too many children have grown up with their every wish granted, and their childish narcissism condoned at every turn; they expect to make decisions in matters which they do not understand.

    Of course, post-modern thought, moral relativism, and obsession with technologies have wrought their own damage: plucking away at what thin threads do still join us.

    So. What to do? Connect where we can, I suppose. Maintain friendships. Find those quiet corners for conversation. Laugh. Remember the lessons that were forced upon us by life, and know beyond any doubt that the young ones will learn their lessons, too. We may be gone by that time, but perhaps they will remember the elders who cautioned them about the complexities of life.

    • I remember such family get togethers, Linda. It seems to me that the seating relationship was the result of people having so many children too. And not having smart phones back then, people used to talk and laugh together. Five or six children around a table was almost like a mini facebook. Since then, I’ve had occasion to see my own grandchildren relate to the banquet table as if it was a buffet, and go about their business, coming round now and then to take their pick of the edibles. So true about contemporary parents wanting to be friends to their children. I wish them luck. But I see these changes as part of a transitional stage, which may very well be replaced by a more appropriate type of social grouping. You speak of the young ones remembering their elders. Sometimes, I find myself conversing with my old father… even though I had the pleasure of his company till I was getting old myself. It’s sort of like talking to myself cause I carry him with me in my head. But now I can better understand some of the things he told me towards the end. Always good to share thoughts with you.

  14. Good morning Shimon. I can understand your not being brave enough to attend these events. I have also been to gatherings where the music was so loud, no one could hear what anyone else was saying….and if you were over a certain age you could feel like a bump on a log 🙂

    What’s fascinating is how ways of being, which in previous times would have been considered outrageous, become the norm. I believe that with social media that is even more so and these ‘new norms’ are taking hold much more quickly.

    I do find that having a family structure is important. I have been on my own and divorced for 32 years but love the fact that I have my son and daughter and extended families…cousins etc on both sides of the big Pond. I am also fortunate to have friends that go back to my early childhood which is akin to having family.

    Being an artist, reader, lover of music, I believe all helps as we age. I cannot imagine what it would be like to not have a purpose each day…something to think about and of course something of a creative nature.

    I hope this finds you and the beautiful Nechame well and enjoying one another’s company. Janet xxx

    • It seems to me that one of the basic principles of culture is moderation and learning to measure details within the context of the whole. At one time self discipline was highly valued. But in today’s society, discipline of any sort is often derided, and freedom seems to be given such disproportionate importance that any limits are suspect. I am offended, and feel battered after listening to an hour of noise… even if it’s called music. Of course, we all have the right to our own taste, so I don’t complain when finding the popular entertainment disagreeable. I just find another venue.

      When it comes to family and friends Janet, I consider friendship to be a higher relationship than family. Where it has been possible, I have tried to make friends of my family. The family ties do offer a commonality which can lead to a special closeness, but as seen in the bible, it is a two edged sword. As for what you said about being an artist, reader, lover of music… I believe that more than ‘help’ those pleasure of life become part of who we are; bring us joy, and give life itself a deeper meaning. At this very moment, Nechama has been sitting on my lap for a little too long, and I know were our roles reversed, she would just shunt me to the side and proceed to something more comfortable. But that’s the difficulty of being a human being… I’m going to deliberate over this for another half an hour while she dreams of butterflies and sour cream. Well, we all have our advantages and disadvantages. xxx

  15. I forgot to say how much I love the photograph in this post……

  16. What you say makes sense, Shimon, and the photograph tells that story well. I didn’t grow up with elders around, to my detriment, and neither did my own child have elders around. Maybe after this upheaval we seem to be experiencing, another, better way will evolve, but I doubt I will be there to see it!

    • If we look back in time and ask ourselves what people living in a previous era would have thought of our times, it certainly seems that there have been a lot of improvements on every level. Think of what the founders of your country would have thought if they could have seen the accomplishments and problems of today. I am sure they would have been in rapture. But it is so human of us to take all the good for granted, and to complain about what we don’t like. Even if we don’t live to see the solutions to all of today’s problems, I believe we have much reason to rejoice. Thanks for your comment Lynn.

  17. What a lovely post. You described what I grew up with – family gatherings of assorted ages and groups – each slowly curled among themselves, but all did get up and make some effort to interact with the others.
    Being from a rural farm area, dad, as the youngest child in his family, seemed to be the one most dedicated to staying close and watching over the oldest. Almost every weekend on the way home from the farm, we stopped by to “check on” some very old relatives still other farms – often still hitching wagons up to go to town on Sat. I found them very interesting to talk with – even though I usually did wander off to the barns or fields after a while.
    Being the youngest of my generation, I tried to do the same with my father’s generation as they aged, but the younger kids and sibling/cousins do not seem interested – too busy, our little children need to do this or that – “can’t they just go on Facebook to keep up?”…no. No, people, not the same.)
    A loosening of bonds between – opportunities to talk and gather family information not seen. A closeness, continuity, and connectivity missed. I hope society as a whole doesn’t regret it – only discovering before too late. It does seem like the glue of community.
    I love that picture. (and we all have to remember to offer spots with a choice of “noise”, or less “noise” HAHA)

    • Folks who work the land, raise animals, and have a few children who take part in the family project of producing a livelihood have much in common, regardless of the background culture that provides a context for their lives. I sensed that common thread when I traveled abroad as a young man. I don’t reject the many advantages of modern life and technology. I myself was raised in the city, and lived my whole life in an urban society, but when I was young, even city kids learned about animals from visits to the farm in summer. We weren’t so alienated and insulated from nature. We took it for granted that we too would find a partner and raise children of our own. Nowadays it seems that so much attention is given to individual accomplishments, and a sensitivity to the exceptional that the young seem to have lost their sense of being part of the rhythm of nature. In old age I often feel more an observer than integral in the community events. And doesn’t bother me. It’s quite comfortable. I still have contacts and discussions with the young. But I can’t help hoping that they young won’t be too busy with exotic experimentation to really enjoy the lives they live. Thanks for your kind words, Phil. It’s a pleasure getting to know you a bit.

  18. I love your photograph, dear Shimon. I learned much at the feet of my family’s elders. I am grateful for the hand crafts skills they shared and their loving wisdom. Part of the fracture that traditional families have to deal with, is the ability to ‘up sticks’ and move anywhere in the world. Even with the disconnection that modern life brings, each generation has much wisdom and many skills to impart. It’s the broadening of perspectives that we lose, if we don’t spend actual time together. Hugs and much love for you and Nechama. ❤ xX

    • Some people have to keep on going till they find something that truly makes them happy… some have to escape the horror of coming into this world. What do we know about even our own choices; what seems intentional at first may turn out, after deep investigation, to be incidental. But not so your hugs and love. Bless you for your radiance. xxx

  19. Like you, I don’t understand why young people feel that they have to play music so loud. They don’t realize that a few decades from now they’ll suffer premature hearing loss. Of course, with most of what passes for music now, I wouldn’t want to hear it at any volume. Oh, what a curmudgeon I am.

  20. I enjoyed the authenticity in this post. Your photo was the first clue. Natural and in black and white with all the men wearing triangular beards. Excellent photo as others have observed above.

    My trainer once told me that as we age, we do not like loud music or noise. I dismissed this as poppycock but having attended a Boy Scout Auction and fundraiser in San Francisco last Saturday night, where the auctioneer was screaming for over an hour…my trainer’s words rang more than true.

    Thanks for this post. I do enjoy them so much.

    • It was interesting hearing what your trainer said about loud music and aging. I became more sensitive to noise as I grew older, but thought it an individual idiosyncrasy, and that I’d just become less tolerant after a while. I think it’s true… another of the many side effects of aging. Just last night, I enjoyed a very pleasant visit from a small group of young people… with good food and lively conversation but without background music or any entertainment… and it left a very good taste at the conclusion of the evening. There is still much to enjoy in life, even if I’ve gotten a bit more choosy than I used to be. Thanks for your comment, Cheri. Very glad you enjoyed the picture.

  21. How I agree with you about the unpleasantness of pounding music that alienates people, what are people supposed to do if they can’t converse, I find such events horrendous and utterly boring. Family structures certainly have changed and each generation seems less respectful of others, especially older people. Mobile phones have changed the way people socialize too, everything has to be recorded and nothing seems real or experienced any more for many. I loved this post and all the pictures, I was amused at your comment re Nechama on your knee and you taking another half an hour to contemplate it. Marvelous

    • Actually, I can’t complain about a lack of respect hear for the elderly. If I get on a city bus that is crowded, I can always count on some young fellow or girl to get up and give me their seat. And that’s not the only example. But I sense that the landscape has changed. People actually enjoy noise! And yes, family structure has changed, and I think it’s harder on the young than it is on the old, but I suppose it’s different for every individual. Glad you enjoyed, Dina. I have a great picture of Nechama. Maybe I’ll post it this week. xxx

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