2018-05-09 / Voice at the Shore

Coffee Klatch and other senior programs offer lively discussion, friendship, and more

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Coffee Klatch regulars are (from left), Cindy Hannon, Irene Schaffer, and Edith Nelson. Coffee Klatch regulars are (from left), Cindy Hannon, Irene Schaffer, and Edith Nelson. On a nippy Friday morning in April, nearly forty seniors— ages 50s through 90s—gathered at the Margate JCC for a Coffee Klatch, a monthly event featuring lively discussion, a mid-morning nosh, and a generous helping of friendship.

By the time the event started at 10:30 a.m., most people had already arrived, gotten their food and coffee, and made themselves comfortable around a big conference table. Group leaders Josh Cutler from the JCC and Tina Serota from the JFS Village by the Shore program then welcomed everyone to Coffee Klatch—one of the most popular of the many programs offered by JCC and Village by the Shore for people aged 50+.

“This is the one program I get everyone—men and women—to come to,” said Tina Serota, who leads numerous programs for Village by the Shore, a membership organization for people 55+ that connects them with helpful services and social opportunities.

Why is Coffee Klatch so popular? “It’s a very fine group of people,” one woman explained. “This is a group of senior citizens who like to learn.”

“The group is very spirited and opinionated and not bashful about offering their opinions,” said another man. “People don’t always agree, but we respect each other—and the food is delicious and there’s no charge, so you can’t beat it!” he added with a smile.

As the program began, Cutler set out “ground rules” for the group discussion, which often touched upon controversial political issues. “We’re not here to change anyone’s mind,” he stressed. “We’re here to listen to each other and understand each other so we can grow closer as a community. We need to respect each other.”

Serota then got the discussion going, reading an article about current events. (Notably, she had several articles ready in case the conversation faltered, but it didn’t.)

For the Coffee Klatch on April 20, Serota began by reading an article about the passing of Barbara Bush, written by African- American author James McBride, who wrote with admiration about Bush’s no-nonsense manner and unending motherly love.

“What do you think about her—and about other first ladies?” Serota asked the group after finishing the article.

Lively discussion ensued. Someone commented on Mrs. Bush’s civility, and suddenly the discussion was all about the lack of civility in public discussion, then about the intolerance of conservative views on college campuses, and then about political biases on Facebook.

“There is such a thing as confirmation bias,” said one woman. “People only take in facts that support their beliefs.”

Another man commented on how divided the country was, “so people are at each other’s throats.”

The group was clearly well-read; many people referred to books and articles they’d recently taken in. People disagreed, but civilly. Everyone wishing to voice an opinion raised their hand and waited for Serota to give them the floor.

The conversation became heated—and stuck—on the subject of presidential politics.

At that point Cutler intervened. “We’re going to take the conversation in another direction, and talk about what’s happening with Israel and Starbucks,” he told the group. The group welcomed this suggestion and began an animated discussion about Israel, forgetting entirely about Starbucks.

Serota then read another article— a Jewish writer’s take on why Barnard College voted for BDS (Boycotts, Divestments & Sanctions against Israel as a punitive political statement), and how Jewish students were unprepared to defend Israel, having grown up on a “fairy tale” about Israel that belied reality. People agreed and disagreed. The discussion then moved to anti-Semitism, and later to family issues.

Finally, at noon, the leaders pronounced the discussion over (until next month’s Coffee Klatch on May 25). Nevertheless, people lingered—telling Serota the one thing they didn’t get to say, grabbing one last little nosh, and kibitzing with other group members.

Getting to know other group members and sharing a sense of connection is what Coffee Klatch is really all about, said Serota. “It’s a friend group. People talk, they argue, they talk some more, they get food, then talk and argue some more. Then they leave and they’re hugging each other goodbye.”

“It’s great to have a place where people in the community can talk civilly and learn from other people’s diverse opinions,” noted Cutler.

Edith Nelson has been coming to Coffee Klatch since it began in February 2016 because “I love to learn. I don’t play Mahjong—I’m not a game player— but I love to learn, to have the friendship, to have people say hello,” said Nelson, who is hustled away by two friends so that they can make it to a Chabad discussion group.

But most importantly, the Coffee Klatch provides seniors with a great opportunity to get out, to be social, and to feel like a relevant part of the community— which is vital to living a healthy life, stressed Serota.

The monthly Coffee Klatch is just one of many programs for seniors now offered by JFS Village by the Shore and the JCC—and the number of such classes is growing. Another popular new program offered by the Village is “Lunch Around Town,” an idea which came from someone at a Coffee Klatch, said Serota.

There are also numerous fitness classes, as well as art, needlework and creative writing classes that are open to seniors who are members of Village by the Shore and/or the JCC.

For more information on Village by the Shore, contact Tina Serota, its membership director, at (609) 822-1109 or villagejfs@jfsatlantic.org. For more information on JCC senior programming, contact Josh Cutler, JCC program director, at (609) 822-1167, extension 138, or jcutler@jccatlantic.org. 

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