Working as a lawyer, Sheldon “Shelly” Hartman couldn’t picture how he’d spend his retirement. He always knew he wanted to retire, but the idea of not having a packed schedule perplexed him.
“As I lawyer, I was always busy and I was worried I’d go nuts in retirement,” he said. “Someone I know who retired before me said that every day would be like Saturday and I thought how horrible that would be for me.”
To combat his apprehension, Hartman read a book that suggested making a list of 10 things he likes to do and to whittle it down to only a few interests.
“What I liked, and part of my job at KeyBank, was to train employees in various things involving employment,” he recalled. “I felt I liked that more than anything else I did as a lawyer and I wanted to focus on that. While at KeyBank we had something called Neighbors Make the Difference, and with that, once a year we would volunteer in the community. In that, I chose Towards Employment.”
After helping Towards Employment for 10 years and receiving an “Excellence in Volunteer Service Award” in 2018, Hartman also serves as a docent at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage and Kol Israel Foundation, and is a member of Park Synagogue social action committee. He volunteers at the Cleveland International Film Festival, the Cleveland Bar Association, the Cleveland Botanical Gardens and NOVA voter registration.
“I believe it’s important to make retirement meaningful,” Hartman added.
CJN: You volunteer at two Holocaust education organizations. Why is this important to you?
Hartman: It’s clearly where I spend most of my time now volunteering. The Maltz Museum has a Holocaust tour and the Stop the Hate tour. Those are the two primary tours, and they’re mostly for young people. I would say we do more tours with middle schoolers than anyone else. They’re from either inner city or inner-ring suburbs, and the museum brings these kids free of charge, including the bus. It’s so great to be involved in something like that. It’s amazing what these kids learn.
(Holocaust education) is important to me because my father-in-law came to America from Poland just before the war broke out. He lost his entire family in the Holocaust. My father had a sister who was in America who returned with her husband to Hungary. She was part of the people who were killed in Auschwitz in 1944. My father lost his sister, his brother-in-law and two nephews then.
With that kind of background, this is something very important to me. So, when I can talk to kids about things like that, it makes a real impression.
CJN: What role does Judaism play in your volunteering?
Hartman: You’re taught as a Jew to repair the world, so this is part of my effort, the little bit I can do to make the world a better place. It makes me feel good. With the Park social action committee, we put on all kinds of programs from gun control, to opioids to the rape crisis. So, participating in that is very satisfying as well. All my things kind of connect in a way – to make a difference.
CJN: Do you have a favorite volunteering memory?
Hartman: I’ve had a lot of them. But the one thing I can recall is a young man who was probably in the seventh or eighth grade, after a tour at the museum, he came up and hugged me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. There are Cleveland Metropolitan School District schools where the children are recent immigrants. That young man was telling me about his Middle Eastern country after the tour. We were both excited and just hugged. It was very special.
CJN: Why should others consider volunteering in retirement?
Hartman: Because when you’re retired, you have more time. If you spend your time sitting at home and thinking about your aches and pains, which everyone has, that’s pretty depressing. For retirement, you need to be active both mentally and physically. You need to experience things, have a good time and travel. I’m very fortunate, I had an excellent job and the means to enjoy that life. Not everyone is that fortunate, but volunteering, keeping active and spending time with family and friends, that doesn’t cost anything.
As Hartman prepares for the future of his retirement, he is focusing on fitness and mental health.
“I want to be well and stay fit,” he said. “Being mentally and physically fit is so important to me. I can remember every single thing I might have eaten at a restaurant, but if someone asks what the restaurant is, I can’t remember. A few minutes later, I can recall. That is frustrating to me. But, that is something that happens as you get older.”
But, that’s why he enjoys his activities.
“The one thing I like about the Maltz Museum and Kol Israel, you have to remember and engage in different things, it’s like graduate school,” he added. “It’s great for the mind and to be engaged.”