Just as baby boomers defined what it meant to be a teenager in America in the 1960s and ‘70s, they are now redefining what it means to grow old. Every day, 10,000 people turn 65 in the United States, with baby boomers making up over a quarter of the U.S. population, according to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center. No one can predict what the future of Jewish aging will look like, but some organizations, aware of the impending need, are improving the present. The Forward identified some of the most innovative programs around the country that help seniors reconnect with their Jewish faith and identity.
PROGRAM: On the Go: Transportation Solutions For Older Adults
ORGANIZATION: Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFSSD)
Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) make services available to people who want to age in place. But living in a NORC comes at a cost: Since seniors aren’t living at a central facility, they need a way to get around. On the Go connects volunteer drivers with seniors so that they can attend religious services (by donation), travel to community centers ($4 a ride) and attend group field trips (price varies). In 2013, the San Diego City Council granted $20,000 to JFSSD to expand the five-year program’s range of service. While transportation programs are common in elderly communities, this one stands out by sheer size: 400 volunteers serve more than 2,000 people in the San Diego area. Last month, On the Go gave its 150,000th ride.
PROGRAM: Annual Purim
ORGANIZATION: The Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living
This isn’t your average paper-streamer Purim shpiel. Members of this assisted-living community plan their show for months. Residents write the script, act, decorate and design costumes; family members play hairdresser, DJ or photographer for the day. But the real highlight of the evening is the senior resident beauty contest, when dolled-up ladies and masked lotharios strut their stuff onstage.
This year, things got risqué. Carol Goldman, the community’s director of programs, explained that each woman had a chance to convince the king that she should be his queen. Resident Bunny Rosenberg struck a pinup pose and said, “Oh Kingsy … if you pick me for your wife … just imagine you could have these [breasts] for the rest of your life! Let’s go somewhere and have a twirl and you will see, I am your girl.” The king, ad-libbing, replied, “Hubba, hubba I like what I see. This gal just might be my cup of tea!”
PROGRAM: Torah Portion Art Therapy
ORGANIZATION Village Shalom
Overland Park, Kan.
Eleven years ago, art therapist Sherri Jacobs brought Judaism and art into the Kansas City area senior community by launching Torah Portion Art Therapy at Village Shalom, a retirement community of 245 people. Each week, 8 to 10 people (average age 95) join her for painting, sculpture, drawing and discussion.
“Art-making really stimulates the brain. Creative abilities [are] the last part of the brain to be affected by dementia,” Jacobs explained.
Village Shalom also houses the Kansas City Jewish Museum of Contemporary Art/Epsten Gallery. Last year, Jacobs hosted a resident art show in the gallery space, along with a monthlong series of intergenerational art workshops for residents and locals.