Rise up before the old man, and honor the old man, and fear thy God: I am God.
Prior to COVID, our students were given the privilege of seeing members of our larger community at Hebrew SeniorLife in person. During the pandemic, we did everything we could to continue this tradition. This year, we once again set out to re-establish contact with the residents of SeniorLife Hebrew – we met via Zoom. At each meeting, students prepared questions to ask residents about universal topics, such as holidays and their favorite foods. Students encouraged their new friends to return to their fifth grade experience to compare and contrast with the learning they are experiencing at JCDS today. From an early age, students learned about “ancient artifacts,” such as mobile phones and extra cars, and watched advertisements.
The spread of COVID reached a safe enough level last month and allowed for a face-to-face visit. We learned last month that we can’t meet strangers – we’re connected with friends! The fifth graders can participate in this program through a generous grant called “Better Together” from the Heritage Foundation. Each year, they sponsor an essay competition and ask students to write about the impact of the program on them. Each school selects one internal winner and then all entries are submitted to a national competition. Eva Menzin herself won the domestic competition! Call hakavod, Eve! You are invited to read Eve’s personal comments here:
Learning from the elderly
By Eve Menzin, ’25
The Hebrew SeniorLife (HSL) program has helped me in my relationships with older citizens, which has made me more connected with the elderly. I think that if I hadn’t done this program, I would never have actually interacted with the elderly. I didn’t know many elders. I was more shy with people. Now, I’m less shy than the elderly. And I learned how to ask more questions. I also learned that the elderly are ordinary people.
Before I started this program, the only seniors I actually knew were my great aunt and uncle. (My uncle passed away a few years ago, so I’m actually a single aunt.) I’ve heard a lot about other members of my family who have lived together for a long time. I had many questions that I wanted to ask my extended family, but as a shy child, I did not ask. One example was when I was in the fourth grade when I was really shy about getting older. I was going to a nursing home on Halloween with my Scout girl soldiers. When I split up with my group of two others, I was too embarrassed to say anything. I just looked at the floor until it was time to leave. If I hadn’t done HSL, I would have felt that all my relationships with the elderly would have been like this.
HSL has taught me that I should not be afraid to ask. This is important because you can learn more about people. Plus, sometimes people really love it. For example, Gemara says: “If his son is wise and knows how to ask questions, his son will ask him. And if he is not wise, his wife will ask him. And if his wife can’t even ask or he doesn’t have a wife, he asks himself. And even if the two scholars of the Torah know халахот They are sitting together at the Passover, and no one is asking any questions. ” This is one of my favorite quotes from Gemara because it shows that no one knows everything. Part of being wise is asking questions.
When I was asked to write questions, I always took the time to think about them. I was usually the last person to hand them over. When I started HSL in school, I had a lot of interest in World War II and the Holocaust. I read 10 books that happened at the time. I also read five real books. I read a lot of articles in fourth grade. I even did a big project in FDR. So when I started this program, I was kind of thinking of seniors as “respondents” to a personal history question. They could tell me what I needed. What could be better for me? Well, they were friendly too and I could talk to them like normal people.
After HSL, I can understand how older people are. (Although at first they felt like strangers.) Rabbi Akiva says how you treat people the way you want them to treat you. HSL has helped me deal with the elderly and think about the elderly more respectfully. It also says, “Get up from your chair in the presence of the elder and honor that elder.” HSL has helped me to have more respect for the elderly. This was really important because to what I’ve said before about asking questions, Mishna says we need to learn from everyone, especially the elderly. Another reason to ask questions of the elderly is important.
In short, HSL has taught me that asking questions to the elderly is good. In addition, I realized that I shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions because most of them like it when I ask a question. HSL has also shown me that seniors are normal people and have similarities to me. I learned from HSL to be more respectful of the elderly. From HSL I have learned many useful lessons that will help me throughout my life.
Shira Diner is the principal of JCDS School.
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