Jewish Geriatric Services Completes Intergenerational Program

LONGMEADOW — Eleven students from the Sandi Kupperman Learning Center at Temple Beth El in Springfield recently participated in the eight-week Ties That Bind the Generations Program at Jewish Geriatric Services.

Designed to help students gain a better understanding of the aging process and the Jewish values associated with respect for the aged and infirm, the award-winning intergenerational program, now in  its 12th year, brings together 7th-grade students from local Hebrew Schools with residents of Ruth’s House and Genesis House, JGS’ assisted-living and elderly-housing programs. JGS’s Julian J. Leavitt Family Jewish Nursing Home also participated in the program.

This interaction provides the students an opportunity to give concrete expression to the traditional Jewish value of honoring elders, while growing to appreciate the challenges and changes that take place as someone ages. The program is funded by the Morty Shapiro “Never Say No” Fund at the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Western Mass. and by the Board of JGS.

The students began the program by studying and discussing Jewish texts that teach the values of honoring parents and providing dignity for elders. They then participated in elder care education and sensitivity training. After this first phase of the program was completed, the students and elders were partnered and given the opportunity to interact directly with each other through participation in a series of specially designed intergenerational activities.

According to Ronda Jackowitz,  program coordinator for Ties That Bind, these activities, which included structured interviews, art projects, and games, provided both the students and the residents with valuable insights and a venue to enjoy and share with each other.

“Each year, the students who arrive at JGS for the program are nervous, excited, and never quite sure what to expect,” she said. “What is so wonderful as an educator is to see them broaden their perceptions of elders and understand in a more sophisticated way some of the issues they deal with as they age. And the residents who participated really find themselves energized by the youthful exuberance and caring nature of the young people.”

Added Rabbi Devorah Jacobson, director of Pastoral Care at JGS, “it is gratifying and heartening to watch the elders and the young students building bonds of friendship and really look forward to see each other from week to week. This year one of the students even invited the woman she was paired with to attend her bat mitzvah.”

The students who participated were Daniel Borowsky, Danielle D’Agostino, Alec Draymore, Sarah Engell, Remy Greenhut, Samantha Grodsky, Jason Horowitz, Randi Katz, Misha Masengill, Peter Paleologopoulos, and Emily Schwartz.

The senior citizens who participated included Bea Fisher, Jack Weiner, Jeanne Goldman, and Elizabeth Zuckerman of Ruth’s House, and Ida Salit, Edythe Cohen, and Jennie Black of Genesis House.

Reflecting on his experience, seventh-grader Paleologopoulos said, “the program really opened my eyes to the aging process and how people change over time. I learned a lot from my partner, her background, her family… she had had a really interesting life. They really are very interesting people and fun to be with.”

Black, who has participated in the program for two years, said, “it’s always enjoyable being with teens.  They are bright and lively. I also understand better some of the challenges they face: peer pressure, making the right decisions, and understanding how to relate to other ages.”

JGS plans to continue the Ties That Bind program with possible fall 2007 and spring 2008 programs, which may include students from other area Hebrew and Jewish day schools.

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