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11-27- Centenarian Laura Simon 
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2005 blog


Parshat Chayei Sarah provides lesson
 for Laura Simon's 100th birthday, November 27, 2005

Torah portions

By Donald H. Harrison 

San Diego, Calif.—Laura Simon listened to the chanting of the Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, from her front row seat to the right of the mehitza at Chabad of University City.  

Legally blind, she could not follow either the English or the Hebrew in the text, but at this moment she lacked nothing.  Family members and well-wishers surrounded her during the Shabbat service, the rhythms of which were more than familiar to her. 

In the recent years leading up to this, her 100th birthday, she had become a regular in this building, which not only houses the Lubavitcher congregation but also, during the week, hosts the senior programs of Jewish Family Service of San Diego. Mrs. Simon, whose home is a short distance away,  attends JFS events regularly, sometimes even obtaining speakers from her  wide circle of friends.

 Had Mrs. Simon been able to read the printed materials, she would have been able to foretell  some of  the remarks that her friend and spiritual leader of this congregation, Rabbi Moishe Leider, would make following completion of the Torah reading. 

A printed commentary, distributed among the congregants, outlined some of the thoughts of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, about Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18).  This Torah portion tells of Sarah's death, Abraham's purchase of land for her burial site at the Cave of Machpelah, and the successful mission by Abraham's servant, Eliezer, to find a wife for Isaac, Rebecca. 

In his commentary, the Rebbe noted that Chayei Sarah describes Abraham as "old, advanced in years." This is not a redundancy, the Rebbe taught.  "Abraham, the Midrash teaches, grew as he aged.  His personal and spiritual development went hand in hand with the passage of time...Abraham 'advanced' into 'his years.' He put himself into the days that he lived; each of his days was filled with a deepening of his connection to G-d...Too often, we cram. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, suddenly we get very involved. We like to focus on peak experiences. What Abraham teaches us is to take each day one day at a time, and to live it to the ultimate. Not to have occasional spiritual heights, but to relate to G-d earnestly each day, to take that day seriously and use it in the fullest and most complete way possible..."  

The reading over and the Torah covered, Rabbi Leider took his place behind the reader's table.  Men on the left side of the mehitza could tell where Mrs. Simon was sitting by watching the eyes of the rabbi, whose vantage point permitted him to see and to preach directly to both genders.  Laura Simon also has advanced into her years, Rabbi Leider suggested. 

Dimunition of vision having made painting more and more difficult for her, she poured her energy into other creative endeavors, dictating the stories of her life into a tape recorder for transcription by devoted volunteers. Mrs. Simon sent some of these stories to the local news media, which not only published them but submitted them to the judges of the San Diego Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists.  Both organizations accorded her prizes.  

Involved, Mrs. Simon speaks with Rabbi Leider by telephone several days a week, and keeps in constant touch with her friends. She also keeps abreast of  the news, remaining interested in communal affairs. A great grin breaking over Leider's face, the rabbi led the congregation in a chorus of  Siman Tov and Mazal Tov for the centenarian. 

Following the services a kiddush was sponsored on the congregation's patio by her son Mayo Simon  and daughter and son-in law,  Sydelle and Norman Dickterman. 

Here, Mrs. Simon thanked the congregation for so honoring her, revealing that the journey to the age 100 can at times be quite burdensome, with the feeling that one is carrying a heavy load  However, she said, when a person reaches 100, it is as if the load has been shed, and lightness returns to one's step. 

The people in the audience craned to hear her better: Here was a travel tip that all of us would like to take advantage of. With the examples of Abraham, Sarah and Laura before us, we— of far lesser age and spirituality—had much to ponder.