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Jewish Retirement Home Activists’ Epistolary Protest

Their handwriting may be a little shaky but their messages were loud and clear. Residents of Seacrest Village, a Jewish retirement community in Encinitas, California, and their volunteer assistants penned over 500 postcards during the March 15 Ides of Trump campaign. A grassroots, social-media driven effort hatched in California, the Ides of Trump created a platform to inspire global postcard-writing gatherings designed to flood the White House with cards opposing the President and his agenda.

At Seacrest, many of the cards, bearing cheeky labels addressed to “President Donald Trump (For Now),” expressed the elderly activists’ concerns about the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Edith Adelman, 88, had tough words for Trump, “Don’t be an idiot. Leave the act alone. The 20 million young people need it. The very rich don’t need it.”

“I just hope Trump can read,” Ida Shreiber, 91, said as she cranked out another postcard to him.

Ida Shreiber, bearing a strong message. Image by Joshua Sherman

Not all of the women’s postcards targeted Trump. Vaughan Rachel, 83, went positive, writing to Senator John McCain, “Thank you for having a back bone [sic].”

Julia Leonard, 96, pointed out that writing the President calling for an investigation of his own campaign’s ties to Russia didn’t make sense. “Too much self interest. We need to write our Congressman about that,” she said reaching for address labels bearing Darrell Issa’s name.

Seacrest’s senior activists rose to local fame after marching in solidarity with global Women’s Marches on January 21. “About 40 of us, including an 103-year-old, marched with walkers, wheelchairs and canes around the building,” said Dee Rudolph, 86, the Seacrest Women’s March co-organizer. Their activism landed them on San Diego’s NBC news affiliate that night.

Joshua Sherman, 32, Cultural Programs Manager of the Leichtag Foundation (a non-profit dedicated to inspiring vibrant Jewish life in coastal North San Diego County), saw the elderly Jewish activists on the news. Inspired by the Seacrest marchers’ resolve, Sherman and a friend devised a plan to partner younger activists with the women to help them continue their engagement. “We thought it would be great to include them in the next Women’s March action step of postcard writing,” Sherman said. So he reached out to Rudolph. She embraced the idea of continuing her comrades’ activism via communal postcard writing sessions.

Sherman and the Leichtag Foundation provided the materials and drummed up 10 volunteers on Facebook for the initial postcard-writing session on February 7. Local public news organization KPBS got wind of the event and broadcast coverage on both radio and television. While enjoying their late-in-life fame, the Seacrest activists take greater pleasure in making their voices heard. “We’re old ladies but we like to be part of the world too,” Rudolph said.

Rudolph remains mindful of the fact that a minority of Seacrest’s residents voted for Trump and don’t embrace the postcard writing sessions. She and her sister activists respect their neighbors’ viewpoints by not discussing politics at the dinner table. But they remain unbowed in their commitment to hold the President and his political cronies accountable.

On March 15, the activists’ third postcard writing event, volunteers ranging in age from 13 to 73 — and Ruby, a King Charles Spaniel therapy dog — streamed in and out of Seacrest’s sunlit synagogue/community room. Many arrived bearing donations of postage stamps. They helped the women (and one man) peel address labels and stamps off their sticky backings and affix them to postcards. Laughter punctuated the gathering when the seniors concocted creative critiques for Trump.

One female volunteer arrived bearing a large bag of fragrant jasmine blossoms. Women young and old stuck the blooms behind their ears and enjoyed the sweet smell of San Diego springtime.

“This is my second time here and I genuinely feel better about the state of the world after speaking to these women,” said volunteer Mariah Christenson, 38.

Sherman kvelled watching his vision of multi-generational activism come to fruition. “Spending an hour schmoozing, writing and hearing each others’ concerns is really beautiful. The volunteers leave smiling and totally recharged. I want these women to understand how much they are appreciated,” he said.

As the postcard session wound down, Rudolph gestured toward the piles of postcards. “Look at what we’ve accomplished. Our voices are so much stronger if we keep working together,” she said. She and Sherman are already cooking up plans for next month’s session.

Sharon Rosen Leib is an award-winning columnist and contributing writer for the San Diego Jewish Journal. Her work has been featured on NPR and in Jewish publications throughout California.

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