Left to right: Rachelle Patille, Cari Randa, Eireann O’Dea (Jewish Seniors Alliance board member and event moderator) and Boah Kim. (Courtesy JSA)
On Dec. 4, Jewish Seniors Alliance presented their fall symposium: Aging in Place: Gerontology Research in Community Living. The speakers – Rachelle Patille, Cari Randa and Boah Kim – and the moderator, Eireann O’Dea, are all graduate students in gerontology from Simon Fraser University and they shared their research on intergenerational connections, dementia-friendly communities and the role of informal caregivers for older adults.
The event took place at the Peretz Centre but was also available by Zoom. Aside from the JSA annual general meeting, this gathering was the first event presented in a dual format since the outbreak of COVID. Fifty participants joined online and about 20 were present in person.
Tammi Belfer, president of JSA, explained that the JSA’s fall symposium focuses on an educational theme and offers a more serious discussion than other programs. She said JSA wishes to provide outreach, advocacy and education services for all seniors, with the goal being “Seniors Stronger Together.” She then introduced the speakers and turned over the mic to O’Dea, who is a PhD candidate in gerontology at SFU. O’Dea’s interests are in social participation among older adults, particularly in volunteering and intergenerational activities; experiences among ethnocultural minority groups; and generativity. She has been a board member of JSA for three years.
The first speaker, Patille, conducts research focused on “intergenerational opportunities in bridging the gap between generations in Metro Vancouver.” She said she grew up having a lot of contact with her grandmother, and she believes that this fact led to her interest is this field. She defined intergenerational contact as a social benefit that facilitates mutual interaction and exchange between generations, and she discussed factors in society that have impeded such contact; for example, age segregation and geographic divisions among generations that lead to ageism.
Older adults living alone is the number one risk factor for isolation and loneliness, she said. These factors underline the need for connections through programming that will bring older adults into contact with other people, including other older adults. This can be accomplished through such things as home sharing, community programs, tutoring and art projects. These projects allow older adults to be part of the community through participation and mentoring, increasing the person’s feeling of self-worth. For some young people, this may be their first contact with older adults and can lead to reciprocity of social networks.
Patille spoke about generativity, which is the passing down and transfer of knowledge and information
between generations. She will also be looking at “voluntary kin”; that is, having younger members of society replace missing family for older adults.
The next speaker, Kim, focuses her research interests on integrated care, formal and informal caregiving, continuity of care and healthy aging. One of the difficulties for older adults is navigating complex community and healthcare systems. Two-thirds of older adults have health limitations and thus need a close connection with the healthcare system, she said. A geriatric care manager could be helpful in bridging gaps in services and helping to predict difficulties, she added. Many factors such as age, background or health issues, cannot be changed, but a care manager and caregivers could help with these situations.
The third speaker, Randa, is the project manager of the Public Health Agency of Canada-funded research project titled Dementia-Inclusive Streets and Community Access, Participation and Engagement (DEMSCAPE). The focus is on inclusion of those living with dementia in the
general community, as 70% live in their own homes. Planned inclusion in neighbourhood design is paramount in creating areas of accessibility, especially outdoor spaces, she said. Randa will be interviewing participants mostly in an outdoor setting to learn their feelings about public spaces with regard to safety and comfort. She is planning a documentary about these issues and the tools available to help, and DEMSCAPE is developing a design and planning guide to aid dementia patients in the community.
In the discussion that followed the presentations, someone noted that many countries are further ahead of Canada in a number of these areas raised. One of these is the availability of affordable home care, which would further facilitate aging in place. Jackie Weiler, a member of the JSA board and also a member of the Senior Advisory Committee for the City of Vancouver, mentioned the idea of a senior planner to promote accessibility.
Gyda Chud, chair of the program committee, brought the afternoon to a close with a quote from her 99-year-old mother, Gallia, expressing a hope for world peace, diversity, inclusion and social justice for all.
Shanie Levinis a Jewish Seniors Alliance Life Governor. She is also on the editorial committee of Senior Line magazine.
On Nov. 30, as part of the Fraser Health Virtual Geriatric Educational Session entitled The Importance of Emotional Support for Seniors, Grace Hann, Jewish Seniors Alliance peer support services supervisor and trainer of volunteers, made a presentation that featured recorded remarks from JSA president emeritus Serge Haber.
Haber pointed out in his remarks how life changes for many older seniors once they retire. They often cease to be valued and become invisible, he said. The JSA’s Peer Support Services (PSS) program has trained seniors to provide emotional support to other seniors – active and reflective listening, encouraging the senior to talk about their issues and finding solutions on their own, but with support.
When Haber took the training course, he learned how crucial the PSS program is for the well-being of seniors. The support provided helps them deal with tremendous changes in their lives, such as loss of family, loss of position in society and health issues. Haber argued that these needs are not usually recognized. The gains made by the clients of PSS, he said, are phenomenal.
Hann pointed out that the training and volunteering also helps the seniors who become volunteers.
The second half of the presentation consisted of an explanation by Hann of the training process and a description of the PSS program, as well as other JSA activities, including education and advocacy. Charles Leibovitch, PSS coordinator and the social worker for the program, spoke about Haber’s passion for the work they are doing and how his passion has inspired many of the staff and the volunteers.
Older seniors can remain alone at home longer, if they would like to, as a result of the government’s Better at Home program. However, there is little in emotional support offered; it is not just a gap in this area, but a chasm.
Alvarez thanked everyone and mentioned the summit Fraser Health is planning in June for further discussion of these topics.
Shanie Levinis a Jewish Seniors Alliance Life Governor. She is also on the editorial committee of Senior Line magazine.
Gloria Levi and Michael Lee were honoured by Jewish Seniors Alliance for their contributions to the well-being of seniors in the community, as was Dolores Luber. (photo from JSA)
When you looked around the room at Congregation Beth Israel on Nov. 27, the pandemic of the last two-plus years would not have crossed your mind. The room was filled with more than 100 happy guests enjoying dinner together.
The occasion was the 15th annual general meeting and gala for Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver. Three people were honoured for their contributions to the well-being of seniors in the community: Dolores Luber, Gloria Levi and Member of the Legislative Assembly Michael Lee.
After welcoming the guests, emcee Rabbi Philip Bregman called upon Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Infeld to recite the Hamotzi. JSA board member Tony DuMoulin read an inspiring message from Serge Haber, the founder and visionary of JSA.
Then, Ken Levitt introduced Luber, the editor of Senior Line magazine. She is the first winner of the JSA Star for her commitment to enriching the lives of seniors through articles, book reviews, film reviews and news. Luber, who has served as the editor of the magazine for 10 years, emphasized the free hand she enjoyed in choosing the topics of the articles, artists’ profiles and other material for the magazine. Her goal was to enlarge the scope of the publication, so that it included people from many cultures and ethnic backgrounds. She was awarded a collage of select covers of Senior Line, with her and her dog, Kesem, in the centre of all the covers, which reflect JSA’s culture of diversity and support.
Levi was introduced by her friend Jane Heyman, who spoke about Levi’s fascination with seniors at the young age of 30, when she worked with the Golden Age Club. Levi went on to develop provincial programs for seniors. She is also the author of six books, most recently the creative memoir The Hotel Keeper’s Daughter, which was published this year.
Levi thanked JSA for the honour, as she received a standing ovation. She spoke lovingly about Haber, who would never take “no” for an answer.
Lee was introduced by Grace Hann, a trainer for the JSA peer support program. He was honoured for his ongoing work with seniors. Elected MLA for Vancouver-Langara in 2017 and 2020, he, along with Andrea Krombein, has launched the South Vancouver Seniors Network. This network has sponsored more than 100 webinars connecting seniors with various topics of interest and with one another.
Lee met Haber and Levitt in 2016. He was impressed with Haber’s passion and commitment and recognized the JSA as a leader in the development of seniors organizations in Vancouver.
Tamara Frankel, co-chair of the event, presented Gyda Chud and, in absentia, Larry Shapiro, with a gift in appreciation of their leadership as co-presidents of JSA over the last three years. A short video by incoming president Tammi Belfer, who spoke from Israel, was screened.
Following the dinner by Nava Catering, the winner of the 50/50 raffle was announced by Frankel – who was shocked to see that she was the winner. Frankel donated her winnings to JSA; the raffle raised more than $1,000.
Tamara Frankelis a member of the board of Jewish Seniors Alliance and Shanie Levin is a JSA Life Governor. Both Frankel and Levin are on the editorial committee of Senior Line magazine.
Mexican-Canadian singer Gustavo Herrera helped finish off the 2021/22 season of the Jewish Seniors Alliance Snider Foundation Empowerment Series. The classically trained operatic tenor, who has a powerful and melodic voice, entertained the audience with a mixture of classical and popular songs.
A Summer Afternoon of Music, the final event of this year’s Empowerment Series, was co-sponsored by JSA, the Kehila Society and Congregation Beth Tikvah. It took place in the synagogue’s sanctuary on June 27 and began with a catered BBQ lunch for the approximately 55 seniors who attended the event in-person. The program was also available via Zoom, making the total audience about 70 people. Herrera’s 94-year-old mother and his sister were among those who joined the concert virtually.
Toby Rubin, coordinator of the Kehila Society, welcomed everyone and introduced the guest. Herrera sang many songs, including “Somewhere,” “Could I Have This Dance,” “Granada,” “O Sole Mio,” “La Donna è Mobile,” “My Way” and “Only You.” He encouraged everyone to join in and to clap to some of the songs.
He pointed out that, although “My Way” is generally associated with Frank Sinatra, it was written by Canadian Paul Anka. A member of the audience requested “Hallelujah,” which Herrera sang in Spanish. Another request was “Boléro.” For the finale, Herrera asked everyone to join him in ending with “Hava Nagila.”
Gyda Chud, co-president of JSA, thanked Herrera, saying that the concert had been very uplifting and that his mother must be very proud.
Shanie Levin is program coordinator for Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Linemagazine.
Spring forum? What spring? Heavy rain and cold weather welcomed Jewish Senior Alliance’s spring forum that took place at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture May 15. But the forum’s title, With a Song in My Heart, was more than fitting and filled the audience with warmth and, I would add to it, “And a Smile on My Face.”
The first hybrid program of JSA attracted 40 people attending in-person, as well as another 40 people by streaming links. Gyda Chud, co-president of JSA, welcomed the audience and reminded them of the work JSA does in outreach, advocacy and, especially, peer support.
The program featured Wendy Bross Stuart, ethnomusicologist, music director, composer and piano accompanist, and was dedicated to the memory of two musicians of exceptional talent: Claire Klein Osipov z”l and Joan Beckow z”l. Bross Stuart said she was pleased to have been able to engage three superb singers for the performance – Erin Aberle-Palm, Kat Palmer and Chris Adams, who delighted the audience with not only their beautiful voices but also with their charming stage presence.
The program started with the beautiful title song, “With a Song in My Heart,” which is a show tune from the 1929 Rodgers and Hart musical Spring is Here.
Bross Stuart spoke about the Joan Beckow Legacy Project, started by Bross Stuart’s daughter, musician and composer Jessica Stuart, which spotlights works of the brilliant, prolific and totally under-celebrated composer, who died in January 2021. Beckow had been Michael Bublé’s vocal coach, as well as Carol Burnett’s music director. She wrote “Pretending” to capture the sense of wonder provided by “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Burnett learned it in a day and it became part of their production.
The forum performance included the Hebrew song “Tov L’Hodot,” as well as George Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which was most famously sung by Ella Fitzgerald. It continued with my all-time favourite Yiddish song, “Oyfn Pripetshik,” which made me think of my mother, followed by “Rozhinkes mit Mandlen,” which prompted many in the audience to sing along.
“Guided by the Stars” was a conversation between husband (Captain Cook) and wife, who pleaded him to be careful upon his forthcoming voyage. Alas, Captain Cook’s life came to a fatal end on that last journey.
While almost all of us are familiar with the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” how many of us know that it was written by sons of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, who escaped the pogroms to “a land they only imagined in their dreams”? Edgar Yispel (Yip) and Harold Alan wrote the song for The Wizard of Oz, which came out on New Year’s Day 1939, less than two months after Kristallnacht. The music is deeply embedded in the Jewish experience, and the lyrics become more about Jewish survival than wizards.
A medley from Fiddler on the Roof further entertained listeners, followed by Beckow’s “On the Other Side of Nowhere.” Her son, David Beckow, selected his mother’s lyrics to inscribe on her gravestone: “When this life is over, we will meet somehow, on the other side of nowhere, on the far side of now.”
The performance ended with a singalong of “Tum Balalaika” and an encore of “Dona Dona.”
Shanie Levin thanked the performers and spoke of the importance of remembering and honouring Beckow and Klein Osipov.
The next JSA event takes place on June 27, 1 p.m., at Congregation Beth Tikvah, and features tenor Gustavo Herrera. The hybrid event is co-sponsored by Kehila Society and the synagogue; if attending the lunch portion, the cost is $12. Register by June 24 with Toby Rubin, [email protected], or via jsalliance.org.
Tamara Frankelis a member of the board of Jewish Seniors Alliance and of the editorial committee of Senior Line magazine.
In Volume 28 of the Jewish Seniors Alliance’s Senior Line magazine, JSA members Kenneth Levitt and Larry Shapiro debated some of the arguments for and against for-profit long-term-care facilities. They offered their personal opinions in the debate, as JSA does not have a position on this topic. Their views are reprinted here, with permission.
For-profits here to stay by Kenneth Levitt
The COVID-19 pandemic with its various mutations has caused a justified focus on long-term care (LTC) in Canada. Organizations such as the B.C. Health Coalition, the NDP, unions and other left-leaning activists or progressives, as well as some physicians, have called for the abolition of all for-profit (FP) facilities, recommending that they be taken over by provincial governments or government-approved not-for-profits (NP). This will not happen in the near future. For-profits (FP) are here to stay and, furthermore, provincial governments support them with LTC operating agreements.
The two main issues are profit and quality of care. In British Columbia, there are 27,000 persons in LTC. Approximately one-third are in each of government-operated, NP and FP facilities. When an FP builds or upgrades a facility, there is no government capital fund support. Capital funds for FPs come from investors and shareholders, whereas NPs depend on governments and their own fundraising efforts. FPs have saved governments billions of dollars in capital costs.
In general, residents are financially responsible for their room and board. Their care is paid for by the local funding authority. Should residents pay from their assets (as in the United States) or continue to pay based on income testing? Should residents who are capable contribute more for their room and board? Many NPs raise funds to subsidize care; others permit paid companions to provide extra care for residents. Should investors who put up their own risk capital (with government “ipso facto” approval) be permitted to make a profit? Is it immoral?
FPs did not do well in terms of COVID-19 deaths. Horrendous stories from Ontario and Quebec came to light that noted the squalor and the shameful living conditions of many vulnerable residents. In British Columbia, a number of NPs and FPs had too many COVID infections and deaths. Staff were not exempt from contracting COVID. How do we account for this? When we factor in those facilities with two or more residents per room, the number of COVID-19 infections, complications and deaths increase dramatically for NPs and FPs. In most cases, staff and visitors were responsible for importing the virus. Governments/health authorities were totally unaware, at the outset of the pandemic, of the extent of the problems. However, most care homes planned well, had few infections with a high percentage of vaccinated staff, and are faring well during the pandemic.
It is not just a move to single beds that will solve the problem of COVID and seasonal flu outbreaks, it is the design of the facilities. We need new and upgraded buildings now. It is also imperative that all staff be vaccinated, and that they be supported by management to better prepare for future health crises.
Canada needs FPs. FPs have the capacity to provide needed accommodation for older adults who qualify, and can build more LTC beds faster than governments. They can provide improved efficiency and greater innovation than NPs. The naysayers want to nationalize all private-sector nursing homes in Canada. The National Institute on Aging at Ryerson University in Toronto recently noted, “Some of the FPs are doing well because they have deeper pockets and much better planning procedures than NPs. It is not clear that one class of ownership is better than the other.”
In an April 2021 report, Isobel McKenzie, B.C. Seniors Advocate, criticized FPs for apparently short-changing the number of direct care hours for which they were paid and making a profit by doing so. At the same time, McKenzie noted that capital costs (building maintenance) is one area where FPs outperform NPs.
There is one FP LTC operator in Ontario, Schlegel Villages, that is at the cutting-edge of services and programs for their residents. Schlegel is a family-owned company that has about 5,000 residents and about 5,000 staff in 19 villages. It did not escape COVID-19, but they have excelled in what is known as “best practices”:
Their philosophy: a purposeful life for each resident.
Each village is accredited.
Staff are unionized and pay is the same as at NPs.
Owners are committed to providing exceptional care, and are good corporate citizens who are involved in and contribute to the communities they serve.
Newer villages are 60% private rooms and 40% with two persons per room. Moving forward, all new construction will be single rooms with ensuites.
Each resident has two bathing opportunities per week.
Villages have several neighbourhoods, with 32 residents residing in each self-contained neighbourhood that is well-supported by seven staff with a variety of skills.
Each village has programs and space open to outside community organizations and they encourage locals to hold events in the available space.
How can we move forward in a constructive way that includes government-operated facilities, not-for-profits and for-profits?
The federal government, in partnership with the provinces, needs to develop and to legislate a set of standards of care and service that will be enforced with consequences. This can be done through accreditation, which is currently voluntary. Once the feds have placed standards of care and service into law, each province should enact similar legislation to require that all LTC facilities be accredited. A provincial accreditation body would be responsible for accrediting, monitoring and enforcing standards.
Accreditation would ensure every LTC facility is delivering the hours of care and support for which they are receiving funds.
Wages and benefits for full-time staff should be uniform for all LTC facilities and part-time staff should be equally entitled to the same wages and benefits.
Hours for home care and Better at Home need to be increased. The financial threshold needs to be lowered to allow more persons in need to take advantage of such a service. This has the potential to put less strain on waitlists for LTC admissions.
When an FP is for sale, give preference to a quality NP to purchase it or allow a local (new) society to purchase and operate it.
Require all LTC facilities that plan to expand to have only single rooms with ensuites.
Develop a timetable and a budget for NPs to upgrade/replace current outdated institutional/hospital-style buildings.
Healthcare leaders, their boards of directors and seniors should be the ones who are advocating and pushing for changes. The status quo is not acceptable.
To eliminate FPs is specious and politically and/or ideologically motivated and is a short-sighted non-pragmatic position. Canada’s Parliament last year voted against such a proposal put forth by the NDP. The issue is not between the NPs or the FPs. The issue is how to ensure that the interests of the residents come first.
The billions of dollars that would be required to eliminate the FPs can better be used for increased and quantifiable quality programs and services. This would be the best and the most ethical way to honour those lost in the pandemic and to ensure it will never happen again. The issue is how we treat our most vulnerable older adults. After all, is it not a matter of human rights and choices?
No place for profits by Larry Shapiro
My goal in this debate is to paint a comprehensive picture illustrating conclusively why many of the for-profit long-term-care facilities (LTCFs) are squandering public funds, with little transparency or few accountability requirements to honour any predetermined set of standards in the areas of quality of service, accountability and profit. We need to see profit taken out of long-term care and need new investments in public and nonprofit beds so that we can reduce our dependence on the private, for-profit sector.
Decades of budget cuts, underfunding and privatization by successive governments have resulted in the catastrophic state of the many private care facilities that have been the sites of the loss of a great number of our loved ones. Nobody should be profiting from the care of our senior citizens. Policy decisions going back 20 years have encouraged raising the profits of private LTCFs by replacing union staff with contract workers, which has resulted in personnel shortages, declining working conditions and less access to public funding. The centre of most COVID-19 outbreaks in British Columbia and throughout the rest of the country have been in our LTCFs.
Let us examine the causes and effects of some of the common characteristics of for-profit LTC facilities that negatively affect the quality of care being dispensed to our seniors. Statistically, 67% of LTC in British Columbia is supplied by both nonprofit and for-profit organizations with the remaining 33% being supplied directly by provincial health authorities. The practice of sub-contracting care services occurs when service providers like LTCFs and assisted living facilities, which are contracted by regional health authorities to provide care, proceed to sub-contract with other companies that offer care workers, kitchen staff and maintenance crews.
These sub-contractors are able to bid lower than qualified unionized staff would cost, all to the detriment of the senior residents who are being served by these workers who are receiving lower wages and poorer benefits and who enjoy fewer full-time positions. The prevalence of sub-contracting in elder care began about 22 years ago, when the B.C. government, by virtue of Bills 29 and 94, stripped out no-contracting and job-security provisions from the collective agreements governing healthcare workers. These laws resulted in the loss of 8,000 jobs by the end of 2004. These laws (which were repealed in 2018) provided health-sector employers, including private LTCFs, with unprecedented rights to lay off unionized staff and hire them back as non-union workers through sub-contracted companies. Predictably, this negatively impacted wages and working conditions.
Reduced funding for and access to publicly funded seniors care, from the early 2000s, resulted in the rationing of care. This meant that access to publicly funded care is limited to those with more acute needs, leaving seniors with less complex needs without access to support services that could keep them from deteriorating and requiring institutional care. So, as staffing levels have declined, the care needs of many LTC residents have increased. More of the publicly funded services are being delivered by for-profit companies, often in LTCFs that combine publicly funded and private-pay beds. The latest data shows that more than 35% of beds are run by the for-profit companies. The health authorities pay for the services through block funding, which accounts for the direct care hours that each resident is to receive per day, and the cost of other services and supplies such as meals. There are no restrictions on how operators spend these dollars and health authorities do not perform payroll or expense audits to ensure public funds are actually spent on direct care.
A report from the Seniors Advocate exposed the fact that most direct care (67%) is delivered by care aides, the lowest paid care workers. For-profit care companies generate profits by underpaying the workers who provide most of the direct care, despite receiving funding based on the assumption they pay union rates contained in the master collective agreement (industry standard). Operators are not monitored to ensure that they are providing the number of care hours for which they are being paid. Without adequate oversight and reporting, companies also make profits by understaffing, which impacts the amount and quality of care that residents receive.
Many LTCFs have a combination of publicly subsidized and private-pay beds, but the co-located private-pay beds are not consistently included in the calculation of care hours delivered. This practice results in publicly funded care hours used to cross-subsidize the care of private-care residents who pay out-of-pocket (for the generation of greater profits) and, at the same time, exacerbates staffing shortages, as companies use the same staff to cover both publicly funded and private-pay beds, which should have their own dedicated staff.
Notwithstanding that the last period for which data is available is 2017-2018, it is noteworthy that while receiving, on average, the same level of public funding, contracted not-for-profit LTCF operators spent $10,000 more per resident per year than did for-profit providers. In addition, and not surprisingly, the for-profit LTCFs failed to deliver 207,000 funded direct-care hours while the nonprofit LTCFs exceeded direct-care hour targets by delivering an additional 80,000 hours of direct care beyond what they were funded to deliver.
Low staffing levels and resulting poor working conditions deteriorate the quality of care, as low staffing places both workers and residents under increased stress and reduces the amount of time care workers can spend with residents. The combination of low pay and understaffing makes it difficult to recruit and retain staff. There is adequate proof that staffing levels and staffing mix are key predictors of resident health outcomes and care quality, and that care provided in for-profit long-term care facilities is generally inferior to that provided by public- and nonprofit-owned facilities.
The B.C. government’s long-standing reliance on attracting private capital into the seniors care sector has benefited corporate chains with the ability to finance and build new facilities. In the decade between 2009 and 2018, British Columbia invested less than one half of one percent of the total healthcare capital spending (which is not very much money). More than one-third of all publicly subsidized and private-pay long-term care and assisted living spaces are controlled by large corporations, while the balance is owned by either nonprofit agencies or health authorities.
Corporate chain consolidation in seniors care has become popular among investors in this sector because the business is real estate-focused, resulting in care facilities being treated and traded as financial commodities. This being the case, the care chains are prone to engage in risky business practices. These chains are routinely bought and sold after using debt-leveraged buyouts, ultimately leaving the chains with debt-servicing costs that revenues, including the government funding, cannot cover, resulting in financial crisis and creating disruptions that undermine the quality of relational care due to high staff turnover.
The evidence is clear: profit-making has no place in seniors care. Public dollars are flowing into profits not into frontline care as intended.
Let us strive to provide the care and support for our parents, grandparents, siblings and others who gave us so much and for whom we care so much. Nobody should be profiting from the care of our seniors and that, dear readers, is why profit should be eliminated from long-term care.
Kenneth Levitt is a past president of Jewish Seniors Alliance, former chief executive officer of Louis Brier Home and Hospital, and a past chair of Camp Miriam. In 1985, he co-edited, The Challenge of Child Welfare, the first textbook on child welfare in Canada. Larry Shapiro studied accounting and worked at major firms as well as with the federal government. In 1977, he studied real estate and opened his own business. Since moving from Montreal to Vancouver, Shapiro has been an active member of the JSA board.
Left to right are Joan Beckow, Claire Klein Osipov, Wendy Bross Stuart and Jessica Stuart, in 2010. (photo by Ron Stuart)
Canceled more than two years ago because of COVID, With a Song in My Heart, a special concert for Jewish Senior Alliance’s spring forum, is back. And it’s even more special.
The May 15, 2 p.m., performance at the Peretz Centre, led by Wendy Bross Stuart, is dedicated to Claire Klein Osipov and Joan Beckow.
“We were originally scheduled to present this program in March 2020. We were well-prepared. Even Claire came over to rehearsal on March 16, 2020 – so she could shep naches from her daughter Lisa’s singing, and she gave us some ‘notes’ to include. Lisa [Osipov Milton] and I were using the very musical arrangements I had created for Claire. Then, COVID happened and the program was ‘postponed.’ In August 2020, Claire passed away.
“Fast-forward to 2022. Two of the singers [David Urist and Osipov Milton] were unavailable. Erin Aberle-Palm was available, and I was thrilled to have her on board. Kat Palmer and Chris Adams had been involved in the recording sessions for the Joan Beckow Legacy Project, completed in February. Chris agreed to join us for a Beckow duet – with Kat.”
Beckow passed away in January 2021.
“About 18 months before,” said Bross Stuart, “my daughter Jessica had come with me to the Louis Brier Home to visit Joan. She asked Joan for her blessing for us (mother and daughter) to record and orchestrate many of Joan’s songs. Joan was visibly touched. She gave us her blessing to proceed. And proceed we did. The Joan Beckow Legacy Project, funded generously by the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council, has included the recording and orchestration of 22 of Joan’s pieces, by 30 musicians, in Toronto and Vancouver. Plus a documentary on Joan’s life (directed by my husband, Ron Stuart) and much more. Assistance and support also came from Joan’s son, David.”
Most of the project has taken place during COVID. About the pandemic’s effects, Bross Stuart said, “To make an effort to be positive, I would say, having more time has allowed Jessica and I to create the Joan Beckow Legacy Project and collaborate in every way. The music and the mutual respect have been well beyond my expectations and – as [fellow community member] Sharon Kates added – a mitzvah for everyone. Especially for people who do not yet know the breadth of Joan’s musical output, it will be a stunning discovery.”
With the developments of the past two years, the musical program for the JSA forum has changed from what it was in 2020.
“It includes Yiddish songs – for example, ‘Tum Balalaika,’ ‘Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen’ – in Claire’s memory, and many Joan Beckow songs, recently recorded in studio, including ‘On the Other Side of Nowhere’ and ‘Tov L’Hodot,’” said Bross Stuart, noting that every composer of every song in the program is Jewish.
The Yiddish songs are from the repertoire that Klein Osipov and Bross Stuart presented over the many years they worked together.
“We have a piece of music which says, ‘Because I knew you, I have been changed … for good,’” said Bross Stuart, referring to the song “For Good,” written by Stephen Schwartz. She added, “David Beckow chose his mother’s own lyrics to inscribe on her gravestone: ‘When this life is over, we will meet somehow, on the other side of nowhere, on the far side of now.’ Kat will sing it.”
The Stuarts and Beckows are longtime friends.
“We met Joan about 50 years ago, when her husband, Jack, was Ron’s anthropology student at UBC. Joan’s music was absolutely magic. When she asked me to assist her with the music direction of a show she was working on, I said yes as soon as I saw/heard one of the lead singers – Claire Klein Osipov!
“Joan and I worked together on choral pieces, on musical theatre pieces, on Jewish liturgical pieces and on classical pieces. I organized the publication of a number of her works, and public performances as well. Her music and her friendship enhanced our lives – and inspired my daughter, Jessica, to become a composer and musician. Joan was a mentor.”
Bross Stuart explained her interest in Yiddish music.
“Growing up in a New York City suburb (Yonkers),” she said, “my grandmother lived with us while I was growing up. Although her most comfortable language was Yiddish (Galitzianer variety), she spoke accented English to me. Yiddish was not what my parents wanted me to speak. This, of course, made Yiddish so much more interesting to me. Years later, in Vancouver, working with Claire and creating musical arrangements for all those songs – four CDs’ worth – required a detailed understanding of the Yiddish. The German I had studied in high school and at McGill was helpful, but working with Claire was even more helpful. We did a lot of concert work together, and I would say that our daughter Fiona grew to love Yiddish as a result. Another mentor for us!”
With a Song in My Heart is JSA’s first hybrid event, taking place live at the Peretz Centre, with streaming links available for YouTube, Vimeo or Zoom. Registration is required in both instances. If attending in-person, proof of vaccination is also required. Visit jsalliance.org, email [email protected] or call 604-732-1555.
The latest JSA Snider Foundation Virtual Empowerment Series session was co-sponsored by Jewish Seniors Alliance (JSA) and Jewish Family Services (JFS). Held on April 26, it continued with the theme “Be Inspired.” Titled Retired, Rewired and Inspired, it featured three older adults expressing their feelings, ideas and experiences of “retirement.”
Gyda Chud, co-president of JSA, started things off by describing the series – which involves co-sponsorship with other community organizations, such as JFS – and its theme.
Program committee Fran Goldberg then introduced the speakers: Rosa Tesler, who was a counselor for abused women when she retired in 2018; Dr. Paul Steinbok, who retired from neurosurgery in 2017; and Tony DuMoulin, who retired from his law career about a decade ago.
The first speaker was Tesler, known as Chully. She described retirement as an up and down road. She missed her clients. She lost her husband and her mother within the same time period. She feels privileged that she had the support of a loving family. To weather the downs, she said, a person must develop patience, determination and self-compassion. It took her a year to overcome health issues, but now, with the correct medication, she is able to live her life. She thanked her many friends, her therapist and her yoga teacher for their ongoing support.
Chully took a course on friendly aging and also the peer counseling training at JSA. She is now an active peer counselor. The pandemic caused major changes in many of her pursuits, but she continued with tai chi, yoga and peer counseling, all virtually. She did have to forgo travel. Adapting, reframing and hope kept her going. We are defined not by what happens to us, but by what we do, she said, ending with a quote from a friend in Argentina who teaches healthy aging: what is in your power, continue; stop what you didn’t want and can’t do; and initiate what you do want to do.
Steinbok had been a pediatric neurosurgeon and, when he retired, he pursued his love of photography, walking and travel. He had been part of an amateur camera club for many years and won an award in 1970. After retirement, he joined a photo group at the University of British Columbia, and learned digital photography. He began looking at nature from a closer perspective, especially its textures and patterns. He started to use his camera more creatively. He shared some of his close-ups of tree bark, stumps, mushrooms and flowers. There were shots of manhole covers – many of which have lovely designs on them. The photos are beautiful and artistic and have been in many competitions. Steinbok said the art of photography adds meaning to his life and he shares them with family, friends and the photo club. He said it feels as if he is continuing to teach, as he did in neurosurgery.
DuMoulin was a practising lawyer for 40 years, managing a firm for 24 years and teaching law. He retired at age 67, because he had many interests that he wished to pursue but not the time or energy to do so. He also wanted to retire at the top of his game.
DuMoulin calls himself a recovering lawyer – he said he needed to rewire and although he was told that he would be bored, the opposite has been the case. He feels his worldview has widened and that he is lighter and freer. He is involved in many activities and spends time with his five grandchildren. He is also reading more and has started a book club. Before COVID hit, he was traveling more, and he is exercising more. He has designed and built a cabin and has done some watercolour painting. He teaches and plays chess. He is active in JSA – on the executive and board and as a member of the editorial committee of Senior Line magazine; he chairs the advocacy committee. He is inspired by volunteers in the nonprofit sector and said the future is our responsibility – and belongs to us as well.
Tamar Stein, seniors outreach coordinator for JFS, thanked the speakers. She said JFS’s programs take place on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. – on May 10, there is a talk on grief and loss and, on May 24, on Medical Assistance in Dying.
Chud brought up the three Rs that she had heard from a friend: relationships, reflection and restorative practice. DuMoulin commented on the recording of family histories and a specific program that helps with this, called Story Worth. Larry Shapiro, co-president of JSA, added that the speakers had been inspirational and that a senior should speak at every event, while Chud thanked Jenn Propp for her contributions, Stein and the speakers.
The next JSA event is its spring forum on May 15, which features the concert With a Song in My Heart, led by Wendy Bross Stuart. The final Empowerment Series session for 2021/22 is in June, with the Kehila Society of Richmond. Visit jsalliance.org.
Shanie Levin is program coordinator for Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.
On Feb. 14, Jewish Seniors Alliance presented the third of its 2021/22 Empowerment Series. The event – Care for the Caregiver – was co-sponsored with L’Chaim Adult Day Centre and the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of British Columbia, and the program was presented by Royce Shook of COSCO’s Health and Wellness Institute and Leah Deslauriers, administrator of L’Chaim.
Gyda Chud, co-president of JSA welcomed everyone and thanked the agency’s partners for participating.
Barb Mikulec, vice-president of COSCO, explained that COSCO is a nonprofit group for seniors helping seniors and that its Health and Wellness Institute presents many free workshops on seniors issues. She introduced Shook, who has been in the field of education for more than 40 years and has worked in curriculum studies. He advises or serves on various seniors committees/councils.
Shook spoke about the stress and burnout experienced by caregivers. In Canada, he said, there are approximately five million unpaid caregivers supporting family members; an economic value of $6 billion to $9 billion.
Caregivers provide both physical and emotional support, he said. This role could involve home management, such as bill paying, grocery shopping, driving to appointments, cooking and cleaning. For the caregivers, they may benefit from a sense of personal satisfaction and a sense of purpose. They learn more about their inner strength and gain a purpose in life by the act of helping. They can help pull family and friends together, but there will be changes in family dynamics and relationships. At times, the recipients of care may be resentful at their loss of independence and privacy.
There is an emotional impact on the caregiver in that they may worry about not being strong enough to carry the load. At the same time, they may avoid asking for help, and this could lead to burnout, Shook warned. There are a number of warning signs to watch for, such as a loss of energy, the neglect of personal needs, trouble relaxing, irritability with the senior and isolation. To avoid burnout, he advised caregivers to learn about the disease or condition plaguing the senior and take any help that is offered for that condition. Know your limits and specify them to others, i.e. family and friends, sharing the burden with them. Make sure to have regular breaks, and talk with others about your feelings.
Communication is very important, he said. Keep up to date on information from the health team. Let the recipient of the care lead, try to be a good listener and maintain eye contact. Always remember that the person has changed, so avoid giving advice or quarreling over minor issues. Do not say, “I know how you are feeling,” but instead say, “How do you feel?” Have a consent form so you can accompany the recipient to the doctor and have questions ready and take notes. There are three major areas of decision-making that need to be arranged with the recipient and not for them, said Shook. These are medical, the need for a representation agreement; legal, power of attorney; and financial, also covered by power of attorney.
Always remember to take care of yourself by accessing, for example, adult day care for respite, home help and community support groups. There is no such thing as a perfect caregiver. Always remember to respond to the present situation and not to the person you once knew. If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t care for others, he said.
After Shook completed his presentation, Eireann O’Dea introduced Deslauriers, who, prior to joining L’Chaim five years ago, was the coordinator of the seniors program at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. She has also been active in seniors housing issues and is a family caregiver for her parents.
L’Chaim is one of 12 adult day centres in the region funded by Vancouver Coastal Health. Referrals are made by a caseworker at the health unit and the programs provide stimulation for the recipients and respite for the caregivers.
At L’Chaim, clients arrive about 10 a.m. and have a light breakfast after which the programs begin. The morning may consist of word games, followed by news and a discussion. A full lunch is served during which socialization is encouraged. The afternoon consists of a guest speaker and/or a musical program. Clients are usually picked up about 3 p.m. Any pertinent information is passed on to the caregivers.
L’Chaim is similar to other centres but it is culturally Jewish. It is funded for 13 clients/day, three days/week and costs $10/day. More information is available at lchaim.ca.
A list of resources for caregivers will be made available on the JSA website, jsalliance.org. Also watch the website for information on the next Empowerment program, April 26, in co-sponsorship with Jewish Family Services, and the Spring Forum on May 15.
Shanie Levinis program coordinator for Jewish Seniors Alliance and on the editorial board of Senior Line magazine.
Inspired by Story and Song – this was the topic of the JSA Snider Foundation Virtual Empowerment Series session held on Dec. 2, in partnership with the Louis Brier Home and Hospital.
Jewish Seniors Alliance co-president Gyda Chud welcomed the 45 Zoom participants, as well as the 35 Louis Brier residents, who joined to hear Shanie Levin’s stories and Myrna Rabinowitz’s singing.
Rabinowitz opened with a Chanukah song in Yiddish, “Drei Zich Dreidele” (“Spin Yourself Dreidel”), which was followed by Levin reading Sholem Aleichem’s Hanukkah Gelt (Hanukkah Money). In this story, Motl and his brother take part in the beloved customs of a favourite holiday: the lighting of the chanukiyah, eating potato latkes, playing dreidel, and the gift of gelt.
In the course of the program, Rabinowitz sang songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and Judeo-Spanish. She sang “Oh Hanukkah,” a song in Judeo-Spanish about the holiday’s eight candles, as well as more personal songs, including one she wrote on the occasion of her grandson’s birth and one she wrote for her father. She offered the audience a treat by singing the classic and sentimental Yiddish song by the Barry sisters from the 1950s, “Wie Nemt Men a Bissele Mazel?” (“Where Can You Get a Little Luck?”).
Levin chose the story by Abraham Karpinowitz titled Jewish Money, from the book Vilna My Vilna, which is a volume of his work that was translated into English by local storyteller Helen Mintz. Karpinowitz was known for his detailed and vivid descriptions of the city of Vilna and the odd characters who lived there.
The Spice Box is an anthology of Canadian Jewish writers and Levin read an illuminating story written in 1968 by Larry Zolf, who was a CBC personality and writer for the program This Hour Has Seven Days. The story, Boil Me No Melting Pot, Dream Me No Dreams, deals with the difference between the American and Canadian immigrant experiences.
Preposterous Papa, the final story read by Levin, was an excerpt from a book by Lewis Meyer. Meyer’s father grew up in a small town in Oklahoma, which had very few Jewish families. Unable to commute to the synagogue in the larger city, his father bought a house and converted it into a chapel, offering a place for the few Jewish families in nearby towns to socialize and pray on High Holidays.
Rabinowitz ended the program with an upbeat song in Yiddish, the title of which translates as “We Are All Brothers and Sisters.”
Nathalie Jacobs of the Louis Brier thanked the performers and expressed her wish to partner again with JSA in the future.
Tamara Frankelis a member of the board of Jewish Seniors Alliance and of the editorial committee of Senior Line magazine. She is also a board member of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.