The Jewish Seniors Alliance fall symposium on Oct. 28 was about aging across cultures. (photo from JSA)
The Jewish Seniors Alliance fall symposium, Aging Across Cultures, took place on Oct. 28. The program dealt with inclusivity while Jews everywhere were trying to cope with the horrors of what hatred can do. Still newly mourning the victims of the shooting at the Tree Of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, attending the symposium seemed strange, but it had healing properties.
The afternoon program was a time of unity and solidarity with other cultures. Attendees learned that loving and caring for seniors in our community and for our family elders is a universal value and touches all hearts in much the same way, as well as presenting similar challenges.
In welcoming the crowd, Ken Levitt, president of Jewish Seniors Alliance, turned the subject of the Pittsburgh shooting over to Rabbi Philip Bregman, who was the event chairperson. Bregman served as senior rabbi at Temple Sholom from 1980 to 2013. He is a founding member of Jewish Christian Dialogue (since 1995) and he now functions as Jewish chaplain for the University of British Columbia and is involved with Hillel BC.
Bregman spoke about the brutal murder of people at prayer. He highlighted the many calls he has received expressing sympathy and condolences. He recalled standing outside a mosque in Vancouver after the shootings at a Quebec City mosque in 2017, where six Muslim worshippers were murdered and 19 others wounded. Among the condolences he received after the murders in Pittsburgh was a message of sympathy from the imam in Quebec.
Bregman emphasized the difference between the word “killing,” which he categorized as meaning accidental, and the word “murder,” which is intentional.
“Where do we go from here?” he asked. “We bury our dead, we mourn and we meet as a community,” he said. “We must never allow hatred to win.”
The audience stood for a moment of silence in commemoration of the 11 murdered and those injured, including several police officers.
The afternoon’s program featured a panel consisting of three accomplished women of diverse ethnic origins.
• Zarghoona Wakil is the manager of the Settlement and Integration program at MOSAIC, a nonprofit organization that helps newcomers to Canada. She also supervises MOSAIC Seniors Club, which provides services to seniors of different cultural backgrounds.
• Sinder Kaur is the executive director of health services at SUCCESS, providing a continuum of quality, culturally appropriate care services to seniors with different needs. She has worked in different leadership roles with a passion to help seniors age in place.
• Deanna Lewis, known as Kalkalath, her ancestral name, was recently elected to the Squamish Nation Council, focusing on elders and their care. Kalkalath is a former teacher, working to preserve her Skwxwu7mesh culture, spirituality and language. Raised with the teachings of her grandfather, she knows the importance of knowing who you are and where you come from.
When Bregman introduced the three panelists, he asked them to share a little about themselves and to address the issue of how their various cultures celebrate seniors.
Wakil shared that she is originally from Afghanistan, then lived in Russia. She came to Vancouver 12 years ago and is now studying at Simon Fraser University for a master’s degree in public health. Kaur is Punjabi-born, lived for 20 years in Hong Kong and moved here 17 years ago. Kalkalath’s Squamish Nation family was removed from Khatsahlano (Kitsilano) in the early 1900s and her main efforts are to teach both adults and children the Squamish language.
Despite differing cultures and traditions, Wakil and Kaur both emphasized that it is seniors who hold history in their hands and only upon opening up their hearts are they able to tie generations together and build upon that knowledge for the future generations.
It was difficult to hear that Kalkalath had to learn about her heritage from others, as her history was erased and harshly taken from her elders. It was she who sought to learn about that past and is now feeling connected again, through the learning of her own language and the ways of her people from her grandfather.
A common thread between all the panelists was that grandparents and grandchildren have a special link that allows them to relax and truly enjoy one another while parents are occupied with the comfort and needs of both these family groups.
All three speakers provided vivid descriptions of the issues and areas of concern regarding elders in their cultures. JSA thanked them for their willingness to share personal stories and stories from their communities. The similarities between cultures superseded any differences.
Claudine Malto, director of community programs at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, then spoke about the house’s new initiative: multicultural circles, where seniors share stories, food, textiles, cooking classes, dance and exercise. She noted that people generally like to sit in “pockets,” which creates a divide. The motivation for this project is to answer the question, “How can we best coexist?”
Larry Shapiro, JSA board member and second vice-president, wound up the afternoon with one of the best vocal advertisements for the Jewish Seniors Alliance that we have ever heard.
Attending the symposium made the sun come out, even on a rainy, tear-filled day.
Binny Goldman is an honorary life board member of Jewish Seniors Alliance.