After her husband Jerry died, Harriet Vogel started writing letters to him “because it was therapeutic and comforting.” Eventually, at age 73, she met her current love online—after grieving sufficiently to be open to someone new. Indeed, Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, an expert on Jewish marriage who teaches at the Ohr Somayach yeshiva in Jerusalem, recommends to “allow yourself the time to work through the grief before attempting love again.” At the same time, Breitowitz says, “in life and love, second chances can be deep and loving.”
When she was in her 30s, Janet Buchwald fell head over heels in love—with the Hebrew language. Three decades later, whenever the 65-year-old Sudbury, Mass., resident itches to expand her Hebrew vocabulary with a tantalizing new verb, she looks no further than her favorite websites. At 69, Michael Vigdorchik feels like he’s playing a game of catch-up, something his online resources make possible. “When you grow up in the former Soviet Union, religion comes harder,” says the Ukraine native who now lives in St. Louis. “You have to take it slowly and ask a lot of questions. This I can do at Chabad.org.” Indeed, the over-55 demographic, though not born with a keyboard in their hands like their grandchildren, is quickly warming to expanding their Jewish horizons online.
When Norma Shulman recently spoke before a gathering of Massachusetts Democrats, she held up the Adlai Stevenson campaign button her mother wore back in 1956. “I was born into it,” says the resident of Framingham, Mass. At age 70, Shulman has logged countless hours stumping for Democratic candidates over the years, including former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, former Massachusetts treasurer Steven Grossman, and now presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. While Shulman spreads the Clinton message, just a few miles away, Debra Livernois of Littleton Mass., makes the case for Republican candidate Donald Trump with friends and strangers alike. “I began to have grave concerns about how this country is being run,” says Livernois, 54. “And, when they opened a state Trump headquarters in my town, I walked in and signed up.” JNS.org explores how Jews in the over-50 demographic are campaigning for their presidential candidates of choice.
With the Katz Hillel Day School and the Gould House retirement community sharing the local Jewish Federation campus as their home, intergenerational bonds are blooming in Boca Raton, Fla. The students provide the seniors with an endless supply of noisy exuberance, flag ceremonies on Israeli Independence Day, and the occasional sloppy kiss. The same dynamic between seniors and kids is at play about 1,500 miles to the north in Dedham, Mass., where dozens of residents at the NewBridge on the Charles retirement community give of their time and talents to students at the Rashi School. Indeed, when students and seniors share a campus, the learning and the giving flow both ways.
The Yad Sarah geriatric dental clinic in Jerusalem sees roughly 115 elderly patients per week, many of them Holocaust survivors. Similar to the situation in the United States, where Medicare—which covers medical care for people 65 and older—doesn’t include routine dental care, the Israeli government’s health fund also has an extremely limited dental policy. Most seniors lived on limited or fixed budgets, making expending funds for dental care difficult. Others seniors are not mobile enough to get to a dental office, which prompted Yad Sarah to launch three vans—one each in Jerusalem, Be’er Sheva, and Kiryat Motzkin—that allow patients to receive treatment, including minor procedures, without ever leaving their home. “With a toothache, you don’t want to wait a month,” says Paul Komor, president of the Rosenbojm-Komor Foundation, which recently donated $500,000 to Yad Sarah. “You don’t want to wait a day.”
Gerry Wine vividly recalls the day Israel was born—May 14, 1948—and the United Nations vote the previous November that opened the door to a Jewish state. He was 8 years old. “These were magical moments for all of us, very, very exciting times,” Wine says. “Even us kids were celebrating.” But Wine would not move to Israel himself until 2012. JNS.org provides a snapshot of senior Israeli immigrants, including Holocaust survivors and those who made aliyah later in life to join children and grandchildren.
Beth sits patiently in her dining room, waiting for her Kosher Meals on Wheels (MOW) volunteer to arrive. A visit from a volunteer means dinner, which Beth receives five days a week from the MOW program in Overland Park, Kan. It also means some much-needed socializing for the nonagenarian. Beth’s story is not atypical. While a kosher MOW in large cities with thousands of Jewish senior citizens is common, it is less so in smaller towns with fewer seniors who desire kosher food. Yet small-town kosher programs do exist. That’s because the program is not solely about the food, explains Esther Friedman, director of Kansas’s kosher MOW program. MOW is about “bringing joy, conversation, community connection and friendship to isolated Jewish older adults,” she says.
“He asked if he could give me a ride home. I told him my door was less than a block away and I would be walking. He said he would give me a ride anyway.” So begins the story of Alan and Sharon Poisner, who were married last October. Alan, 80, and Sharon, a few years his junior, weren’t looking for marriage. But a chance meeting during a discussion group hosted at the Village Shalom retirement community in Overland Park, Kan., brought them together. The Poisners have both been married before, and their situation is neither common nor particularly uncommon. According to “Remarriage in the United States,” a 2006 report published by the U.S. Census Bureau, 35.9 percent of marriages annually are between couples in which at least one spouse is remarried. JNS.org interviews Jewish seniors who prove that, indeed, it’s never too late to find love.
Have you ever heard of a lifeline made from paper mâché? Or from silk, clay, paper, wood, or metal? It’s through working with those materials that 300 of Jerusalem’s senior citizens have been, literally, pulled back to life. But many of the thousands who buy the resulting creations each year have absolutely no idea of the mitzvah they are performing with every purchase. At Lifeline for the Old, batches of seemingly innocuous goo are destined to become earrings, tzedakah boxes, picture frames, and much more in a workshop staffed with “elderly artisans.” Soon they are painted and ready, along with hundreds of other items, for sale either at the gift shop there at 14 Shivtei Israel Street, a stone’s throw from Jerusalem’s Old City, or to be shipped off to synagogues, Judaica shops, and individual customers around the world.
In “The December Project,” author Sara Davidson captures the spirit of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a founder of the Jewish Renewal movement who died last month, and based on his insights forms a new guide for how to live in the final stage of life. Davidson’s book is critical at a time when life expectancy is rising, yet most of us have no one to teach us how to prepare for senior living, writes reviewer Rabbi Jack Riemer.
For the 60,000 foreign workers currently employed as caregivers in Israeli households, the stakes are high. Work visas are patient dependent and are granted for four years and three months, with no extensions or opportunities for reassignment in the event of the elder person’s death. Following the patient’s death, a caretaker must return to his or her country of origin, terminating a source of income that has provided countless opportunities for their families. The lots of the elderly and the caretaker are intertwined. “Today the foreign caregiver that lives with the patient—this is the most common way to grow old in Israel,” Yaron Bengera, vice president of Yad Beyad, a Tel Aviv-based agency that recruits foreign workers, tells JNS.org.
Is the age-old trend of Jews retiring to South Florida on the decline? It depends how you look at the numbers, demographer Ira Sheskin says. "Even though the percentage coming to Florida may be down, the number coming is probably not decreasing and it’s not going to decrease," Sheskin, a member of the committee that completed the 1990 and 2000-01 National Jewish Population Surveys, tells JNS.org. "There are 10,000 baby boomers a day in this country turning age 65. Even though the percentage coming to Florida may be somewhat lower, because there is an increase now of people retiring in this country over the next couple of decades, the number coming to Florida will still continue to increase."
One of the most significant trends within the American Jewish community over the past few decades has been the continued rise of intermarriage. For many Jewish seniors who were raised during a time of strong anti-intermarriage messages coming from the Jewish community, the growth of intermarriage presents a unique challenge to the values they were once taught. New programming from synagogues, Jewish federations, and nonprofits seeks to help Jewish seniors to adapt to these new realities while still maintaining the values they wish to pass forward.
“Just because someone is older or has limitations does not mean that [he or she] cannot continue to be valuable and make a difference for others,” says Carol Silver Elliott, president and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Mason, Ohio. Since 2009, residents in Cedar Village’s Chesed Corps have made weekly Shabbat baskets for Jewish patients at area hospitals. In northwest Baltimore, older residents of an entire neighborhood are giving back through Northwest Neighbors Connecting—whose grassroots model provides services to seniors from other seniors, volunteers, and vetted vendors. In Florida, older adults and volunteers are trained as liaisons, resource specialists, and peer counselors in their own gated communities through the local Jewish Family and Children Services agency.
April’s fatal shooting at Village Shalom in Overland Park, Kan., has had a palpable effect on the entire senior living community, according to its president and CEO, Matt Lewis. But months after the murder of Terri LaManno in the center’s parking lot, the staff has moved from crisis mode to reflection. Unlike the similar shooting that occurred the same day at the local Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Village Shalom is a residential facility and people consider it their home. “It is no different than if it happened in your front yard or mine,” Lewis said.