I recently read a “letter to the editor” in a print publication (yes they still exist and I still read them!) about an elderly Jewish man from Morocco. Although blind and suffering from dementia, having learned the whole Tanach (the Torah, Prophets and Writings) by heart as a child, he can still recite any passage upon request. Yes, you read that correctly – any passage!

He still goes to the synagogue and if the reader of the Torah makes a mistake in pronunciation, the blind grandfather with the failing memory will correct him. The power of what we learn as a child!

There was someone similar at my local synagogue for many years. He came to shul with his name pinned to his jacket since he was liable to forget who and where he was. Yet the same phenomenon occurred. If the person reading the Torah portion made any error, he immediately corrected him. So deep were the memories.

If I search the recesses of my childhood memories, I can probably conjure up the words to the theme from “Gilligan’s Island” or “Green Acres.” There are even the melodies and lyrics to many Christmas carols. But all the words of the Torah with their proper pronunciation? Now that would be something.

The point of encountering such people, such an experience of this powerful phenomenon, is not to beat ourselves up if our childhood memories aren’t in sync with his. We probably had no control over the situation.

Our opportunity now is what to teach our own children – and what to expose them to. If we recognize that the songs and chants and prayers and stories they hear as children will remain a part of their psyche forever, if we particularly appreciate the power of repetition and that repeated stories, songs and ideas can be inculcated in our children to last their entire lives, then maybe we will make different and more conscious choices about what we teach them.

Maybe we will think more carefully about what knob we turn on the radio or what CD’s (am I dating myself?) we play in the car. Maybe we will examine with greater forethought the stories we read to them or the tales we tell. Maybe we will really listen to the words of the songs we are singing or parse carefully the messages we are conveying.

Our lives are very busy and parenting is very hard work. Sometimes important things fall through the cracks. But an encounter with someone like this can remind us of the opportunity we have and encourage us not to waste it.

I may be condemned to know by heart the theme to “The Beverly Hillbillies” and most Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, but my children needn’t be. They had a fresh start and an opportunity to master Tanach by heart. They could have it at their finger tips, even in their old age. I envy them.

But I haven’t given up. When I recite my Psalms every day, I think about that man, the one who attended my synagogue. And while I hope to retain my eyesight and my memory long into old age (please God), I hope even more that the words of King David will have been burned so deeply upon my soul that the memory of them will last long after my senses fade and that those are the words I will have on my lips as my life slowly diminishes, and not the lyrics from The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song.