“I will never forget the rewarding experience I had as a twelve-year-old volunteering at the senior living home next to my dance studio,” said April Akiva, director of the Temple Beth Sholom religious school. “During the break between dance classes, a few of my friends from dance class and I would go to the senior dining hall to greet people as they entered and ate dinner. The seniors had so many interesting stories to share, and in turn, I sang music from my favorite eras — the 1920’s, ‘30’s, and ‘40’s.”
During this school year, Akiva wanted to give her students a sense of honoring senior citizens. She developed a religious school tzedakah theme of Kibbud Zakeinim, honoring the elderly, “because our tradition teaches us that there is much to learn from people who have lived longer on this earth than we have,” Akiva said. “Kibbud Zakeinim and all that it stands for has been incorporated throughout the education program this school year.”
In the fall the religious school hosted an event in which many of the 7th and 8th graders brought their grandparents to the temple for a special Chanukah celebration. The seniors sat at tables with the teens and shared various experiences such as favorite childhood memories, their connections to Judaism, and advice for the future. They explored the concept of Jewish identity and what it has meant to different generations. The group then participated in cooking and art activities together.
Incorporating Kibbud Zakeinum into the congregation’s adult education program, Rabbi Heidi Cohen completed a course entitled “The Sandwich Generation: Caring for our Parents, While Growing with our Children,” which explored how middle-aged adults interact with their aging parents. The class delved into Jewish understandings of honoring parents, explored end-of-life issues, and even provided the opportunity to have questions answered by a hospice rabbi, Rabbi Glenn Ettman.
Each week the TBS religious school students have been collecting tzedakah money for the Silverstreak bus, a free senior transportation line run by Jewish Family Service of Orange County. As each class collects $50, they get to place a “shekel” (Israeli currency) on a poster of a bus in the education office. At the end of the school year the religious school will be donating the money to sponsor rides for seniors.
As a culmination of the religious school’s social justice program this year, the highlight of the tzedakah theme took place on the afternoon of Sunday, April 18, when the religious school hosted a “Senior Prom.” Seniors from all over Orange County were transported to TBS for an afternoon of dancing and refreshments. The Silverstreak bus was reserved for the occasion, so that students could see where their donations were going, and so that seniors who are unable to drive could enjoy the festivities.
Invitees included a group from Heritage Pointe, the Ezra Center, and students’ grandparents. Senior TBS members were also invited to this special event.
Each class took on some role or responsibility, such as bringing card tables, making decorations, singing, or welcoming the seniors, according to Akiva. One of the teachers is a DJ, so he recorded “big bands” music for the event.
“The concept of honoring the elderly resonates with the students, especially when it’s people they know,” Akiva said. “They understand that some elderly people can’t drive, but they still have to go to the doctor or the grocery store. It’s important for the students to do their part to meet the needs of the elderly and also to understand how much these people have to give.”
Temple Beth Sholom has also created the Renaissance Group for congregants who are 60 and up. The group, which meets monthly, listens to musical performances and speakers, plays games, and shares light refreshments. It includes 60-somethings to 80-somethings and draws a crowd even in stormy weather, according to organizers.