“Every day I see or hear something
That more or less kills me with delight,
That leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light.
It was what I was born for—to look, to listen, to lose myself
inside this soft world—to instruct myself
over and over in joy, and acclamation.”
—Excerpt from “Mindful” by Mary Oliver

Earlier this month, the Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Jewish Healing hosted the 13th annual Friendly Visitor Chanukah Celebration. Approximately 120 older adults, volunteers and staff gathered together at JF&CS headquarters to celebrate Chanukah as a community.

Guests at the Friendly Visitor Chanukah Celebration playing dreidel
(Courtesy photo)

Everywhere I looked in the room, I saw people engaged in the joyous activities of Chanukah. Whether it was reciting the Chanukah blessings, dipping latkes (potato pancakes) in applesauce, laughing at a funny story or reminiscing about a favorite memory, I could see the sights, sounds and delicious smells of a warm Chanukah celebration.

For many of our older guests, this is their only opportunity to celebrate Chanukah and eat traditional foods like latkes. For others, it is a chance to have an engaging conversation with a group of younger folks. And for our generous volunteers, it is a joyful opportunity to do the important work of helping to lessen the feelings of isolation experienced by many older adults.

A JF&CS staff member recently shared with me comments she received from our clients about the Chanukah celebration:

  • “Everyone around me was beaming with big smiles and happiness.”
  • “My mother discovered that she lives in the same town as another guest and they exchanged phone numbers so they can stay in touch and visit each other. They are both widows, and I’m delighted that my mother, who rarely goes out, made a new friend.”
  • “It was my first time. Thank you for the party. All the staff worked so hard to make it perfect, and it was!”

I also heard this wonderful story from a JF&CS staff member:

“My client traveled 60 miles to attend the Chanukah celebration. She called me the next day with joy in her voice, thanking us for making it possible for her to be there. She and her caregiver, who isn’t Jewish, had a great time and thought it was beautiful. As someone who isn’t around other people who are Jewish, the celebration was a very rich and uplifting experience for her.”

I want to thank our volunteers, members of the Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Jewish Healing advisory council and JF&CS staff members who helped to create this meaningful intergenerational Chanukah celebration. I am especially grateful to my colleague, Ruth Maffa, and her husband, Phil, for the sounds of their beautiful music playing on the harp and violin!

A menorah and music at the Family Table Chanukah Celebration
(Courtesy photo)

Like Mary Oliver wrote in “Mindful,” I consider myself so fortunate to have the opportunity “to look” at a teenager holding the hand of an older adult, “to listen” to a toddler squeal as numerous voices recited the Chanukah blessings and to “lose myself” in the warm embrace of contented guests as they headed back home.

Sue Spielman, MPA, coordinates the Friendly Visitor Program and Caring Communities Resource Network, both programs of the Betty Ann Greenbaum Miller Center for Jewish Healing. She has run the Friendly Visitor Program for over 16 years. Sue also manages Café Hakalah Brookline, of Schechter Holocaust Services. Prior to joining JF&CS, Sue worked for 20 years in the world of parenting education and support as an educator and community organizer. Sue received degrees from Harvard University, Wheelock College and the University of Massachusetts.

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