“You must be so relieved that your kids are grown-up,” an acquaintance suggested the other day. “I can’t wait for mine to launch.”

“Are you kidding?” I responded. “Parenting never stops. It’s a 24/7 lifelong proposition. The terms and needs may change but the responsibility is always there. There is no retirement from parenting.”

She walked away duly chastened and a little sorry that she ever began that conversation.

Then I had an experience that illustrated for me that I was thinking too narrowly. It’s not parenting that’s a 24/7 lifelong endeavor; it’s our responsibility to all of our fellow human beings, and most particularly our Jewish brothers and sisters.

On a very brief business trip to New York, I carved out a few minutes to do a little shopping – some “me” time as they say. The saleswoman asked my name and by her pronunciation of it, I understood that she was Israeli. “Shavua tov,” she said to me, confirming my impression.

As we rang up my purchases (I was very efficient in my few minutes!) she began to chat some more. “I had to make havdalah by myself last night,” she volunteered, “because I’m single and I live alone.”

Now what was I supposed to do with that? The experience had just been transformed from indulgent “me” time to “responsibility to a fellow Jew” time. I wasn’t expecting it. I wasn’t prepared. I was caught completely off guard. And truth be told, I didn’t want it.

Since I don’t live in Manhattan, there wasn’t much I could offer other than my empathy. I tried my best but was relieved when another customer entered the shop and her attention was diverted.

I know I didn’t bring my A game to the conversation, although I’m not really sure what that would be – but I also know that she taught me a lesson.

I may not have been able to help her (maybe all she wanted was a listening ear) but I was able to learn. There is no “off-duty”. There is no retirement.

There are people in need – at every place, at any time – and I can’t ignore them. I have a responsibility and it doesn’t stop at the entrance of the department store or restaurant or cleaners. It’s 24/7. It’s what it means to be a human being. And it is particularly true being part of the Jewish people who live by the credo “kol Yisrael ereivin zeh l’zeh – all Jews are responsible for one another.”

I was going to say that there is no such thing as “me” time but I think I just need to revise my understanding of the concept. It’s not that I do for myself when I engage in a self-centered activity, but, paradoxically, I do for myself when I help others. And if anyone has an extra space at their Shabbos table in New York City, I know someone who might be available…