Interfaith Programming, Community Outreach, and How We Bring Judaism to Senior Citizens

December 7, 2015Miriam Jersky & Sylvia Elinoff

A few years ago, Temple Shalom’s sisterhood decided to start a community outreach program that would enable a unique sisterhood from a unique temple to reach out to the unique Central Florida Tri-County community. What makes both Temple Shalom and its sisterhood unique is that both were founded by senior citizens and both remain solidly senior.

The project we chose essentially fell into our laps perhaps through divine intervention.

A temple member moved into an assisted living development and asked our sisterhood president if she knew anyone who would come to his new residence and bring Passover to the Jewish residents.

“Consider it done,” she told him. “Sisterhood will be glad to hold a Passover presentation for you and your fellow residents.”

And we did.

The sisterhood board approved the idea was and then formed the sisterhood community outreach committee, which was announced at the next general sisterhood meeting. When we asked volunteers to sign up, divine providence struck again: One of the volunteers was a retired school teacher who used to give presentations about Jewish holidays to mostly non-Jewish students!

At the first presentation, our president, the former school teacher, and a former Hebrew teacher talked to a small group of residents at an assisted living residence. The temple member who initiated the program was there, along with several other temple members and other Jews in their community. We showed them the elements of the Pesach table, talked about the historical significance of the holiday, showed them the Pesach foods and objects on the table, and answered questions about Pesach. Then, we distributed small tambourines and song sheets – and everyone was soon singing and feeling the Pesach spirit.

From that first presentation, our committee grew to 38 members. We now visit a total of 10 rehabilitation, assisted living, and independent living facilities in local area, doing presentations for the Jewish holidays of Sukkot and Hanukkah in addition to Passover. Committee members sign up for the presentations they want to help with.

At the presentations, we tell the history of the featured holiday, say the blessings appropriate to the holiday in both Hebrew and English, talk about how the holiday is celebrated today, and describe the foods served during the holiday. The song sheets and tambourines are then distributed, just as they were at the first presentation; sometimes, sisterhood members provide live music. The residents, which include people from different faith backgrounds, all sing along, shake the tambourines, and have a wonderful time.

Just as we did that first time, we talk about our own experiences with the holiday and ask the residents to share any memories about the holiday they might have. We conclude with a question and answer session, during which time the facility’s activity director provides holiday-appropriate refreshments.

Above all, our community outreach committee invites residents and staff of all faiths to attend and participate in an informative interfaith activity. It’s a wonderful opportunity for people of all faiths to learn about and appreciate each other.

Miriam Jersky is the sisterhood president and Sylvia Elinoff is the sisterhood outreach committee chair at Temple Shalom in Oxford, FL. This piece originally appeared in the Women of Reform Judaism email newsletter on Oct. 16, 2015.

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