June 12, 2024
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Seniors Connect in a Meaningful Way at Temple Israel Center, White Plains

(Courtesy of Temple Israel Center) It’s a Wednesday afternoon and Temple Israel Center‘s reception hall is abuzz with activity. Forty seniors from the community roll out dough to make hamantaschen at their seats before enjoying a festive holiday meal and Megillah reading with groggers and songs led by the clergy. A number of the 75+ year-old crowd tell us it’s their first time making hamantaschen. And last month at the Senior Connect Tu B’Shvat seder, many said that experience was a first too.

Each month a group of 25-50 seniors come together to connect with one another and the clergy and celebrate the holiday of that month, as a community of peers. The format is always the same: schmoozing with each other and the clergy, a festive meal, interactive learning and sometimes singing led by the clergy, as well as occasional live music or an activity. At the end of each event, seniors can pack up some leftover food to take home. If needed, rides to and from the event are provided by volunteers. Next month, the seniors will gather the day after Passover, learn with the clergy on the theme of spring and renewal, plant herbs and enjoy a seasonal lunch.

In 2021, after emerging from the lockdown of covid, the Hesed Circle at Temple Israel Center in White Plains introduced these events to bring seniors back into the building to connect with each other and the clergy in a meaningful way. We recognized how isolated many of the older congregants were and while our checking in with phone calls, delivering holiday packages and offering to pick up groceries were all nice attempts to support seniors, we realized that what they were missing most was a sense of community.

We planned our first Senior Connect event in December 2021 to celebrate Chanukah together with the clergy. We sang songs, lit the menorah and had a festive meal. For most of the seniors, this event was their first time back in the building in almost a year (for others longer) and a much-needed reunion with their community of friends, with whom they shared a long history. Many of the seniors have been members of Temple Israel Center for more than 40 years.

After a successful first gathering that December, one gentleman who attended, a 99 year-old named Roy Cohen, called and told us the event was better than a fancy evening out in New York City. He said he would like to pay for the event and asked that we plan a gathering each month that he would generously sponsor.

This marks our second year implementing Senior Connect events, and Roy is now 100. We celebrated his birthday together as a group in October. Prior to each event, Roy works with a member of the staff at TIC to decide what the menu will be and he always makes sure there will be enough food so people can take home leftovers. Roy is the first to arrive at each event and one of the last to leave, dressed up in a sports coat, sharply conversing with everyone and lighting up the room with his smile and warmth.

The gratitude of all the participating seniors for the events that are catered especially for them creates such a glow in the room, expressing their joy for the connection that is much needed, especially in a stage of life that can be isolating. And their positive attitudes, sense of humor, wisdom, rich histories and kindness are an inspiration to us Hesed Circle volunteers. L’dor v’dor – from generation to generation, each appreciating the gift of the other.

The Senior Connect events are our way of acknowledging the seniors who have helped build the synagogue into what it is today, and making sure they know they are not forgotten but rather valued members of our community. The events also keep the seniors connected to one another, the clergy and their spiritual home. Doing so in a smaller environment with their peers allows for a more intimate and manageable experience.

Senior Connect is one of several areas of focus of Temple Israel Center’s Hesed Circle. Bikur Holim, Shiva Support and Welcome Wagon (for families with new babies) are the other areas that fall under the Hesed Circle umbrella, with the intent to create a more caring community.

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