For more than 20 years, Rabbi Gunther Plaut, 91, received inspiration for his weekly column in The Canadian Jewish News from the people he met and the places he visited.
"Writing always came easy to me. Someone would speak to me about a certain issue, and before I knew it, it became the stuff of a column," says Rabbi Plaut, senior scholar at Holy Blossom Temple, author of 23 books, including a two-volume autobiography, and a companion of the Order of Canada.
"I wrote a lot of good articles, and perhaps even a lot of nonsense, but I always felt I was reaching the readers,” Rabbi Plaut said in an interview. ''Now that I am in my 90s, however, it is not always possible to come up with a topic. My world is shrinking somewhat. The inspiration is not always there. Before, the subject would come to me; now I have to look for subjects. Before, I was a participant; now I am a bystander."
But he said he plans to continue writing, "when the urge strikes me and I have something to say. To
me, writing is like talking to people and that is very important. "People used to come to see me at the temple just to talk. Sometimes talking is part of the healing."
Rabbi Plaut said he places such importance on communicating with people that he attends Holy Blossom’s weekly Out of the Cold Program in order to talk to the guests.
"So many people have no one to talk to. I go to the temple every Thursday and I talk to these people about [how they manage] with no job and no money." “Many of them live fractured lives. They never learned how to converse with people. They can talk, but they can't converse. They are not used to people sitting down and wanting to know all about them."
Seniors, especially, need human contact, Rabbi Plaut said. "Older people have a lot to teach. I am an example. I use to be young, bright and arrogant, but in the last many years, I have left my arrogance behind and the brightness has darkened. J have grown older and hopefully wiser."
Older people are forgotten by society, he said. "The fact that I have 'x' number of degrees doesn't matter. It is unfortunate but true that old people are discounted. The word 'old' was once an accolade, but today that is the opposite. The only time 'old' is an accolade is when someone is talking about antiques.
"Being old is no fun. Most people scrape along and have a difficult time. Loneliness is a great problem
because family and friends begin to diminish, and there are fewer and fewer people around."
Since his wife Elizabeth died this fall they were married 65 years – he is lonely, he said, because even though she was hospitalized for some time, he would visit her every day.
"Having religion though, helps me, as it can help any person of any age. It is especially a support when a person gets old or ill.
"I see a lot of older people in synagogue, and I think that is because they realize there is something more in life.”
“It helps me to realize that there is a sliding authority – that there is a higher power at play that is more important than any individual. I can’t prove it, but a lot of people are certainly on my side in that line of thinking.”
He also keeps busy with activities.
“I play tennis indoors all year, and I play golf in the summer. In Europe before the war I was an amateur soccer player. I played in Germany, France and Italy. I’ve always known how important it is to get up and get moving.”
“Looking back – I seem to do more and more of that lately – I have had a wonderful life. I had a perfect marriage, Holy Blossom has been wonderful to me, my readers were my friends and I have met some of the greatest people, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meir and Martin Luther King.”
“Living in Canada has also been a wonderful opportunity. It is my privilege to be here.”