Shanie Levin brought Sholem Aleichem’s stories to life with Al Stein. (photo by Binny Goldman)
Tell me a story, please…. Which one of us has not made this request of a mother, a father, a zayda or bubbie?
On Oct. 30, almost 70 people gathered at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture, where they were welcomed by Peretz president Gene Homel, who shared some of the activities that the centre hosts, including the Sholem Aleichem speaker series (SASS, or “SASSY,” as they call it). The Tuesday night event was held by Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver in partnership with SASSY.
Gyda Chud of both JSA and Peretz introduced the first session of this year’s JSA Elders Empowering Elders series, which focused on storytelling.
The audience sat enraptured, traveling back to their kinder yorn, childhood years, as they listened to Myrna Rabinowitz. She sang several Yiddish songs. Among her original compositions was one that she had composed for the birth of her grandson.
From stories told in song, to those spoken, Shanie Levin and Al Stein read stories that came alive with their interpretations of the text and their excellent delivery. Enhanced by the clever use of minimal but appropriate costuming, and done with humor, the characters and the way of life of Shayneh Shayndel and Menachem Mendel became real to those listening, as did the ongoing dilemma that they each faced. As Sholem Aleichem once famously stated, “You can take the Jew out of the shtetl but you cannot take the shtetl out of the Jew.”
In thanking the performers, Chud quoted Stein, who had said in his preface to reading his first story: “In keeping with the Narodnik movement (Power to the People), the young Russian intelligentsia at the time and not the elite, Sholem Rabinovitch chose the name Sholem Aleichem, the common Jewish greeting, as his pen name, ‘Peace be unto you.’” Chud commented on the fact that Power to the People motivated Sholem Rabinovitch to change his name, and that the theme of JSA’s Empowerment series is “Elders Empowering Elders.”
Ken Levitt, one of JSA’s vice-presidents, rose to the occasion by thanking the performers partly in Yiddish, having researched the phrasing on the internet. He explained that he hadn’t grown up in a Yiddish-speaking household, although Yiddish had been used as a secret language between his parents. His valiant effort endeared Levitt to all the Yiddish-speakers in the audience.
The session ended with eppes zees mit a Yiddish taam, something sweet with a Jewish taste, accompanied by hot drinks. To quote one of the characters in the story that Levin read: “If you have a piece of bread, take your eyes off the cake!”
Volunteers of both JSA and SASSY helped make the event a success, as did JSA staff Karon Shear and Rita Propp.
Es eez given a mechayeh, it was a pleasure and an oisgetzaichent, outstanding and enriching time together.
JCC Showtime’s cowgirl dance was an audience favorite. (photo by Binny Goldman)
The duet sung by Maurice Moses and Debbie Cossever, “Teach the World to Sing,” set the tone for the entire afternoon performance by JCC Showtime at the last of this year’s JSA Snider Foundation Empowerment Series, which had as its theme, “A Smile on Your Face, a Song in Your Heart.”
Toby Rubin, executive director of Kehila Society of Richmond, welcomed the crowd of 100 who gathered June 29 at Congregation Beth Tikvah for the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver and Kehila event.
Rabbi Howard Siegel, who led the Hamotzi, joked with those assembled that the reason there was no clock on the wall was because it would not suffice to record the length of his sermon (which he said he was about to deliver), as his would require a calendar.
After the BBQ lunch catered by Stacey Kettleman – and just before a huge cake honoring all the volunteers was served – Rubin called up a number of those volunteers from her various committees and presented them with certificates.
Rubin said that, in the audience, there were people from the Louis Brier Home and Hospital, L’Chaim Adult Day Centre, JSA, Angels There for You, CARP and seniors from Beth Tikvah, as well as people who had heard about the event through publicity.
The program began with “Happy Opening“ and showcased the talents of the JCC Showtime performers, accompanied on piano by Muriel Morris and with Gary Zumar as sound technician.
Each number presented new and charming scenarios, which included quick and clever costume changes. Some crowd favorites were the duets “Together” and “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” by Arnold and Nassa Selwyn; the guest appearance of “Dolly,” Marshall Berger dressed as a woman; Cossever belting out “Can’t Get a Man with a Gun”; Moses engaging the crowd with “Beautiful Morning”; and the striking cowgirl dance, as well as “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Two of the last songs, “Tzena Tzena” and “Hava Nagila,” led by Moses and Arnold Selwyn, took the crowd to Israel as they sang along.
Complex choreography and the blink-of-an-eye costume changes were all conceived and created by the founder of JCC Showtime, Beryl Israel, who immigrated in 2002 from South Africa, where she had been involved with a similar program.
Rounding out the Showtime lineup were Sara Bernstein, Rona Black, Lisa Conn, Andria Engel, Tamar Glaser and Susan Goldstein.
Just as the performers were about to leave the stage, Berger was handed the microphone and asked to sing “Happy Birthday” to his wife, Marilyn Berger, president of JSA, who was celebrating her birthday that afternoon. He was joined by all the performers in the singing of a touching rendition of the song.
Marilyn Berger thanked the performers for a wonderfully joyful afternoon that traveled down memory lane and she also gave a short talk about JSA, highlighting its advocacy and its peer support program. She then handed out gifts for each of the cast, helped by Kenneth Levitt, one of JSA’s vice-presidents.
Stan Shear, with Karon Shear, JSA coordinator, by his side, made a video of the performance, which will be posted at jsalliance.org.
It was an afternoon that definitely put smiles on faces and songs in hearts.
Binny Goldmanis a member of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver board.
At the recent Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver fall symposium, left to right: Peggy Casey, Lorilee Mallek, Nora Paul, Mark Godfrey and Grace Hann. (photo by Binny Goldman)
A capacity crowd of 175 gathered at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture on Sunday, Oct. 26, to learn more about mental health and wellness, the topic of this year’s Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver fall symposium.
JSA president Marilyn Berger opened the session by asking the audience to rise in the name of mental health and to honor the soldiers who had lost their lives that week in Canada. This was followed by O Canada, led by Barbara Bronstein and Debbie Cossover, with Claire Cohen joining them in the singing of Hatikvah, and Marshall Berger accompanying on piano.
Gyda Chud introduced herself and co-convener Bev Cooper, and proceeded to inform those in attendance of the various projects that are JSA’s main concerns: advocacy, Senior Line Magazine, peer support counseling and the Empowerment Series. She went on to explain that the day’s topic had been chosen by attendees at past events, via the evaluation cards they had filled out citing this issue as a particular interest.
Cooper introduced the first speaker and the panel moderator, Dr. Penny MacCourt, past president of the B.C. Psychogeriatric Association, who admitted that she, too, will become a senior this summer.
MacCourt said that mental health is often equated with mental illness but that they are not the same thing. She emphasized the need to teach people ways in which to cope in the face of adversity; to help moderate the impact of stress, and facilitate social and emotional well-being. We as a society need to provide supportive living shelters, and continuous inclusiveness and access to such services, she said.
Help should be provided to those in need to maintain self-esteem and achieve effective coping strategies, she added, as these are the “protective factors” that can ease or ward off risks, including social isolation, limited income, loneliness, challenging life transitions, and lack of meaningful activity.
Dr. Martha Donnelly spoke next. At one time the director of the division of geriatric psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and a leader in the development of guidelines for geriatric mental health practice, she outlined some “red flag” symptoms of depression: appetite disturbance, loss of weight, early morning wakefulness, lower energy, and wishing life were over. The highest rate of suicide is in the senior years, she said.
One of Donnelly’s patients, Don Carroll, a very young 82, offered the audience a glimpse into his former work life, which included being an instrumental part of TV shows such as Mr. Dress Up and The Friendly Giant, and his subsequent descent into a depression from which he could not emerge on his own. With Donnelly’s continuing help, Carroll has returned to being an outgoing, fun, contributing person; a difficult journey for him, his supportive wife, Nancy, and family. It took resolute determination on all their parts to get Carroll to where he is now – off any medication and sharing with others his belief that one can heal with the correct diagnosis, therapy, doctor and support, to regain the ability to rely on oneself. The process was slow, including group therapy, daily exercise, medication and “thought catching,” tossing out negative thoughts before they take hold.
Grace Hann, who is currently working with JSA as a trainer and supervisor of peer support services, acknowledged JSA president emeritus Serge Haber for his vision to initiate the peer services as a vital project of JSA.
Hann is president of Senior Peer Counseling of British Columbia and on the YWCA board of the Community Action on Elder Abuse Project. She explained that it takes a peer to fully comprehend the feelings one is experiencing, such as loss of a loved one, age-related challenges, relocation, family discord – all situations that need empathy, which she described as “echoes of another person in ourselves.”
Hann called upon three graduates of JSA’s program to do role-playing, one of the methods used in the 55-hour course in peer counseling. They performed skits depicting examples of exchanges between clients and counselors at Week 1 and in Week 54. It showed the process through which the trainees had gone and from which they had grown from the initial expectations of their own abilities and finally gaining the knowledge and understanding of how to deal with the challenges clients face, such as loss of vision, a loved one and/or freedom and independence.
Trainees are taught to not use JAR: judgment, advice or rescue. Rather, counselors employ the three Es: empowerment, empathy and emotion. Both clients and counselors have benefited from the interactive sessions, said Hann, noting that there is a waiting list.
Hann then introduced a special guest, Tanja, 91, who, when Denmark was invaded by the Germans, secretly and at high risk to herself, helped Jewish adults and children escape to Sweden. Tanja shared that one of her most gratifying moments was witnessing the uniting of a mother with her child in a kindergarten when the war was over. She also shared that, many years later, here in Canada, when she was ill with cancer and reached out for help, she received empathy and understanding. Tanja was given a standing ovation by those attending, many of whom had been moved to tears listening to her.
The symposium came to a close with Berger thanking the speakers, presenting them with gift certificates. She made special mention of the co-conveners as well as JSA coordinator Karon Shear and the entire symposium committee for putting together such a successful event.
Refreshments and discussions followed. The audience left with much to contemplate but assured in the knowledge of where and to whom to turn should the need arise.
Binny Goldman is a member of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver board.
Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver board and staff 2014-15. Standing, from left: Janet Kolof, Timothy Newman, Marilyn Glazer, Barbara Bronstein, Lyle Pullan, Claire Cohen, Gyda Chud, Ida Gitlina, Rubin Feldman and Binny Goldman. Seated, from left: Karon Shear (staff), Shanie Levin, Ken Levitt, Serge Haber, Marilyn Berger, Milton Adelson and Rita Propp (staff). Missing from the photo are Debbie Cossever, Marie Doduck, Lionel Fishman, Sylvia Gurstein, Sylvia Hill, Pamella Ottem, Rita Roling, Edith Shier and Jackie Weiler, as well as peer support staff Charles Leibovitch and Grace Hann. (photo from JSA)
As the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver marked its 11th annual general meeting on Sept. 11 at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery, it was indeed an evening of celebration inspiration and innovation.
JSA past president Serge Haber welcomed a standing-room-only crowd and led them in a minute of silence to honor those who had passed away during the year.
Adolf Zilbershtain, president of the Most Bridge Russian seniors group, brought greetings and extended thanks on behalf of its 150 members for the financial support JSA had given them.
Bernard Jackson, president of Jewish War Veterans Shalom Branch – one of only three branches in Canada – followed and gifted JSA with greetings and a monetary donation.
Treasurer Milton Adelson reported that JSA is in good standing but that adequate funding remains an ongoing challenge and priority.
Attendees learned from Pamella Ottem that JSA’s peer support program is now the largest in the city, and that JSA is looked to for guidance, mentorship and support by many organizations offering similar services. Ottem lauded the peer support leadership of Grace Hann and Charles Leibovitch in building the program, which now serves more than 150 seniors and includes peer counseling, a home visiting program, phone calls to isolated seniors, an information and referral phone line, transport to medical appointments and a new bereavement support group.
Representing the membership committee, Lyle Pullan reported that JSA gained 46 new members this past year. He encouraged attendees to consider themselves as committee members, and to “Sign ’em up!” The goal is 100 new JSA memberships for the next year.
Joining the meeting was Shelley Rivkin, associate executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, who spoke about how much JSA and Haber are valued. She said Haber served as a mentor not only for Federation, but for all who advocate for the well-being of the community’s elders, who number 5,000 and whose numbers are expected to double in the next decade.
As JSA celebrated its 11th year and Haber’s nine as president, his report highlighted JSA’s numerous accomplishments in advocacy, outreach, the Seniors Line Magazine, the Empowerment Series, fall symposium and spring forum, where JSA has achieved a 25 percent increase in attendance. He honored the work of executive coordinator Karon Shear, his “right hand,” for her conscientious hard work and dedication, and the commitment of Rita Propp, office assistant. Together with the 4,000 hours of JSA volunteer activity, this is what makes JSA the “best of the best,” he said.
Ken Levitt, board vice-president paid tribute to Haber. Levitt asked the audience to ponder how many 86-year-olds they know who are such exemplary leaders and contribute with such vitality on a tiny, shoe-string budget. Very few, he suggested. Haber was elected president emeritus in a unanimous vote.
Certificates of merit were presented to “retiring yet always rewiring’’ board members, Pullan presented the nominations slate of returning and new board members and the election included the executive board for 2014-15.
Incoming JSA president Marilyn Berger, in her acceptance speech, concluded the AGM with the message, “Let’s do this together, as JSA continues to grow, flourish and thrive.”
After the meeting, there was dinner in the Wosk Auditorium with entertainment by Tzimmes, after which four honorees were celebrated, each of whom were nominated by their individual organizations for their contribution in service to others and ensuring that they enjoy life to the fullest.
Natasha Likholatnikov, nominated by Chabad of Richmond, has been a volunteer since her arrival in Canada from Ukraine. She volunteers in an ongoing capacity often several times each week. According to Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman, Likholatnikov spends more hours at Chabad than he does. She is involved in the Women’s Art Club, whose participants are from the former Soviet Union, and in Chabad’s Community Kitchen. She cooks for Chabad community activities, helps coordinate volunteers, and much more.
Stacey Kettleman was put forward by Congregation Beth Tikvah. She has been a part of Beth Tikvah for many years, and works hard to help many seniors and people who are isolated and need assistance. She thinks nothing of whipping up a meal, whether it be for Shabbat, a Yom Tov or just a warm dinner, and then delivering it to a senior in need. She also ensures the senior has food in his or her home, getting groceries for them if they do not. If Kettleman hears about a senior perhaps not attending an event, she will make a point of getting that person a ride – trying to make sure the senior is not alone, but part of the community.
As a writer, photographer, tribute-card creator and honorary JSA life member, honoree Binny Goldman brings an enthusiastic and positive presence to the many activities she undertakes for JSA. She rarely misses meetings, voluntarily undertakes assignments with devotion and the results are extraordinary.
Last but not least, Edith Shier created Senior Line Magazine, now published three times each year. To quote Haber, the magazine “is the only written communication to the seniors in the Jewish community and continues to receive rave reviews as the best of the best.”
Concluding the festivities, Haber was presented with a gavel and plaque by Berger for the work he has accomplished, the legacy he leaves and the contribution he will continue to make to JSA. He received a standing ovation. For his outstanding contribution to JSA and in memory and honor of his late wife Elinor, the Serge and Elinor z”l Haber Peer Support Fund has been established.
Haber urged everyone to be here and there with all our heart, and to press governments at all levels to play a much stronger role in the well-being of seniors.
Dinner co-chairs were Bernice Dorfman and Regina Boxer.
Gyda Chudis secretary of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver executive and board of directors.