From One Generation to the Next

To understand just one of the ways that BCHSJS fosters Jewish continuity among young people in Northern New Jersey, picture this:

An elderly Jewish woman is gently led to a piano, where she eases herself down onto the bench. She is short and slight and dressed in bright, beautiful colors. She gets her bearings and, smiling, bends over the key board. She pauses for a moment, then her gnarled hands dramatically hit the keys and she enthusiastically begins playing songs, some from the past, some from the present. The room of some 50 people join her in singing these familiar songs. She pauses briefly between them, smiles at the young people from BCHSJS standing nearby, and selects the next tune. The sheet music is propped in front of her, but it appears that she is playing by heart. There is no question that she is playing the songs from the heart.

The woman at the piano is 104 years old. She’s a resident of Daughters of Miriam/The Gallen Institute, a comprehensive elder care center in Clifton, New Jersey, where she lives a vibrant life. The young people standing by the piano? They are just some of the BCHSJS teens who, as part of their Jewish Volunteer Corp. class, visit Daughters of Miriam to build relationships with their Jewish elders.

They conduct many activities together, such as making a shared cookbook, but a good deal of what they do is simply talk and listen to each other. Each resident has a rich personal story to tell, and they are also curious about the lives of the BCHSJS students. On a recent visit, one resident shared beloved memories of a trip to Israel, while another gentleman showed a newspaper article about the hardware store he’d run for decades. Students and residents argued back and forth about a recent basketball game. And of course, uniting young and old were stories about food, especially at Passover! When asked about their favorite Passover dishes, residents argued the merits of matzo brei over Passover rolls and our BCHSJS students talked about their own favorite traditions and foods.  BCHSJS teacher, Barnett Goldman, said that his family had added a new tradition to their Seder plate – an orange – to symbolize the need to welcome people disenfranchised.

Students in our Jewish Volunteer Corp. earn community service credits that they can use on their college applications or resumes, but they gain something even more important than that. By volunteering at Daughters of Miriam, they bring life and light to an older Jewish generation, who in turn pass their Jewish traditions, memories, faith and pride on to them.