2018-03-28 / Voice at the Shore

JOAS outreach brings Passover—and Jewish connection—to local seniors

Voice shore editor

Jill Kaiserman with her mother, Leona Kaiserman, at a recent Seder held by JOAS at Wesley Manor in Ocean City. Jill Kaiserman with her mother, Leona Kaiserman, at a recent Seder held by JOAS at Wesley Manor in Ocean City. Passover is one of the most celebrated holidays for American Jews. Sadly, elderly Jews residing in non-Jewish longterm care facilities often miss these traditional family events, said Adrienne Epstein, director of Beron Jewish Older Adult Services (JOAS).

Most of these elderly residents are in their 80s and 90s, said Epstein. Some are too frail to leave their facility. Some reside far from family. The end result is that they are not able to participate in Jewish life.

“It’s common for older people to lose their connection with Judaism,” said Epstein. “Often people connect with Judaism through their children and that connection weakens when the children move away,” she explained.

With older seniors, like those in long-term care facilities, taking part in the Jewish community and Jewish life is often just physically too difficult, she added.

Rose Schwartz enjoys an intergenerational Seder held by JOAS at Brandall Estates in Linwood. Rose Schwartz enjoys an intergenerational Seder held by JOAS at Brandall Estates in Linwood. That’s why JOAS has begun bringing Jewish life to them. This Passover, Epstein and a group of JOAS volunteers have concluded Passover Seders at a handful of non-Jewish long-term care facilities, including Brandall Estates in Linwood, Wesley Manor in Ocean City, Woodview Estates in Mays Landing, Seacrest Village in Egg Harbor Township, and Meadowview in Northfield. JOAS and its volunteers come to these facilities bearing matzo, large-print Haggadahs, and other essential elements of the Passover Seder.

This Passover outreach initiative is an extension of JOAS’ four- year- old Taste of Shabbat program, which brings Shabbat celebrations to these facilities on a regular basis as well.

“Our goal is to bring ‘yiddishkeit’ to older Jewish men and women who live in health care facilities away from their homes and synagogues,” said Epstein.

The Passover outreach program, which began just a few years ago, has been very well received.

“People share with us that it brings back lots of fond memories, of growing up and of having Seder with their families,” noted Epstein.

The outreach program is funded by a generous grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Atlantic & Cape May Counties.

“This is an important program for reaching Jewish seniors who would not be able to otherwise connect with the Jewish community,” explained Jewish Federation Executive Director Kirk Wisemayer. “It’s fantastic that JOAS is doing this.”

The program would not be possible, he added, without the many generous community members who fund the Jewish Federation’s Annual Campaign. “This is their campaign dollars at work,” said Wisemayer.

At a Seder held earlier this month at Wesley Manor in Ocean City, Jewish resident Leona Kaiserman was thrilled to share Passover with other residents as well as her daughter, Jill Kaiserman, who traveled from King of Prussia to be at the Seder with her mother.

“Leona was like the Jewish matriarch of the facility!” said Epstein.

Jews and non- Jews alike attended the Seder, and Kaiserman delighted in explaining many aspects of Passover to her fellow residents.

This sort of interaction is common, said Epstein, who often sees Jewish residents explaining the rituals of Passover to the non-Jewish residents sitting next to them. Non-Jewish residents enjoy learning something new and taking part in the experience as well, she added.

Also beautiful to behold is the interaction between the residents and JOAS volunteers, who answer questions about the Seder, help people find the right page in the Haggadah, and do whatever needs to be done.

“Our volunteers are really enthusiastic about this program,” said Epstein. “Cantor Debbie Stern leads a cadre of lay volunteers including Lori Scarpa, Elaine Geller, Lynne Lassin, Sheila Moses, Nancy Rubin, Howard Rosenfeld and Ellie Kremer.”

These volunteers “like to be hands on with the seniors and are excited about going out into the community,” she added. “They find it meaningful and rewarding, and many also learn more about their faith by taking part at Jewish celebrations at these facilities.”

JOAS continues to look for new ways to help seniors connect with the Jewish community. Earlier this month, Epstein and Gail Scherzer, program director for JOAS’ Rosin Senior Center in Atlantic City, brought ten seniors from Rosin Center to a Women’s Seder at Shirat Hayam in Ventnor.

Epstein also hopes to further expand the Taste of Shabbat outreach program. Already, the program has expanded over time to include celebrations for Passover, Chanukah and Rosh Hashanah, and to bring these celebrations to a growing number of facilities. Now, JOAS would like to bring this “community chaplaincy service” to Jewish people in local hospitals, starting this spring, said Epstein.

For more information on the Taste of Shabbat program or volunteering, contact Beron- JOAS at (609) 345-5555. 

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