‘Never Too Big To Learn’
Fri, 01/16/2009
Staff Writer
The biblical story of Samson and Delilah came alive recently for a group of 14 senior citizens who, in looking for parallels in today’s world, cited the cases of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former President Bill Clinton. Even Michelle Obama and her heritage became the subject of debate. The women, residents of the Gurwin Jewish-Fay J. Lindner Residences, an assisted living facility in Commack, L.I., were speaking of how Samson’s love for Delilah led him to reveal the secret of his superhuman strength. “He sold his secret for fleeting pleasure,” said Esther Kaplan, 84, the leader and founder of the discussion group. “He had a desire for instant gratification.” Then, putting down the notes she held, Kaplan looked at the women seated around a long conference table and said: “We think of Gov. [Eliot] Spitzer and of President [Bill] Clinton. Clinton was impeached, but he got away with it.” Making biblical stories relevant is something Kaplan tries to do each month as she leads discussions about women in the Bible. Susan Glassgold, the facility’s director of recreation, said that although current events discussions are commonly held at assisted living facilities, Bible study is rare. “I never worked in a facility where religion was of such great importance as it is here,” she said. “This is a very traditional community, and people — even those who may not have been observant before — have gone back to their roots here. “They are also a particularly well informed, articulate group,” Glassgold continued. “We do hold daily discussions here based on a variety of topics including current events, and they really are knowledgeable about the Bible. I think they all came from a more observant background that some of them practiced with their own families. “I think it’s fairly unusual because the women are so articulate and well informed about many things.” Glassgold pointed out that after the Bible discussion, which is restricted to women residents, the facility’s marketing director, Staci Rosenberg, usually leads a discussion that relates the biblical story to women’s issues. Rosenberg was away when Kaplan led the Samson and Delilah discussion in December. In her presentation, Kaplan gave a brief overview of the story — how the Philistines gouged out the weakened Samson’s eyes and how later, with his strength restored, Samson pulled down the pillars of the Philistine house, killing himself and 3,000 others. “When you lose one of your senses, you see better and hear better,” said one of the participants. Kaplan pointed out that Samson sacrificed himself “for the greater good. He comes to understand that his inordinate strength is from the Almighty. … Samson is a flawed character. He would be under the care of a psychiatrist today. I would have sent him to my son.” “Women resort to sexual means to survive,” Kaplan continued. “They use cold-blooded seduction and resourcefulness. This story is the closest the Bible has to a war between the sexes.” When the discussion returned to Spitzer’s infidelity, Kaplan said she felt “so bad” for his wife, Silda, who stood by his side when he acknowledged on national television his trysts with prostitutes. And she observed that Hillary Clinton also “stayed and hung on” after her husband’s unfaithfulness was revealed. Lottie Hollander, 94, said she believes that “some of the women who stay with their [cheating husbands] have ulterior motives — not money but climbing the ladder [of success].” Asked if any of the women had ever met Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband, Franklin, cheated on her, Irene Eisenberg, 93, said she had met her when Franklin was running for governor of New York in 1929. “I always admired her and respected her,” she said, adding that Franklin’s infidelities “didn’t destroy her.” “I think almost all presidents had affairs,” Eisenberg added. As the subject turned to strong women, Osdoby expressed concern about Michelle Obama and if she is “out for revenge for how her black people were treated [in America]. I hope this wife of Obama looks to help all the people of the United States, no matter what their color is.” Another woman said she had “read that the ones they go around with are Arabs who are against Israel — and their close friends are pro-Muslim.” (These charges too were made during the campaign and flatly denied by Obama supporters.) When the discussion ended, Dodie Freeman, 77, said she had found it and the other sessions “very stimulating. This is an intelligent group of people who speak out; we don’t always agree. The mention of Spitzer set everyone off. He ruined his life. He may come back, but it will always be in the back of our head.” Kaplan said one of the lessons of the Samson and Delilah story is that “women are strong even though we may appear weak.” The widow of a rabbi, Kaplan said she started the discussion group last year thinking that there were women at the residence “who would like to learn of the women of the Torah.” Eisenberg said she was glad she joined the group. “I’m never too big to learn,” she said.