Maimonides Better Together

By: Rabbi Yossi Rubin
from Maimonides Hebrew Day School

Real-World Learning

Subject(s) of entry:
Art, Gemara, History, Ivrit, Literature, Mishnah, Music, Tanach

PBL - project based learning

Grade(s) to which this was taught:
5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, Elementary school, Middle school, High school

Grade(s) for which this will be useful:
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, Middle school, High school

Maimonides Better Together students & seniors share & grow together; students actualize their study & seniors share their life experiences.

We integrate timely and relevant Jewish Respect for elderly, Torah values in classroom lessons, before meeting & hands-on activities with seniors.

Entry Narrative

Maimonides Better Together

Maimonides middle and high School students visit seniors every month to develop connections between youth and the elderly by sharing holiday celebrations, music and songs; culinary, and family oral histories. Students and seniors share and grow together; students expand their studies; and seniors share their own life experiences. Maimonides strives to blend curriculum with real life to create a sense of self-awareness; build self -esteem, and develop student character and service to others in the scope of greater society. The Better Together program begins with a Senior Sensitivity Training Curriculum. We can understand the elderly better by learning about the aging process; becoming aware of our own positive and negative attitudes toward aging and older people; and learning to distinguish between what is true and what is myth about aging. Students are provided with skill to improve communication with adults who have cognitive impairment.

Our student visits reach a great variety of seniors in the community. We deliver kosher food packages, bring a smile to seniors’ faces, and brighten their day with a fresh cooked soup, or an easy hands-on craft. The Better Together program was developed with goal to help the seniors; however the program helped the students change their own perspectives. This developed little by little, project-by-project, students learned, developed, and grew, as reflected in their Better 2Write essays. Maimonides students have won  several awards; acknowledging the great impact this program has had and the positive outcome by helping  seniors. The seniors report looking forward to these visits, and that they appreciate the innovative programs and vital life lessons the program brings.

Stirring Up Memories – series of home visits to seniors  hands-on grating potatoes by hand to fry latkes with seniors and bringing back memories or students baked delicious treats and visited seniors in the area sharing traditional foods bringing them a Taste of Tradition. The Better Together Cookbook features recipes the students and seniors shared and memories from their “Better Together” encounters.

Better Together Torah

We bring Torah lessons down to earth with practical applications, from creating an authentic synagogue experience and giving Russian seniors an aliyah for elderly Jews who grew up in Communist Russia and never had an opportunity to become “Bar Mitzvah”, to a workshop on healthy smoothies for Tu B’shvat with a workshop teaching the Brachot for food. Students shared how to prepare fresh Israeli salad and enjoyed it together with pita and falafel too! Then they had mini ulpan hebrew crash course with the seniors.

Our successful program raises our student’s excitement and self esteem. The Better Together program has been successful in engaging our middle & high school students, & are continuing the connections we made this year with a unique mitzvah themed program: Monthly Mitzvah– Students will learn in depth about a mitzvah and then share with interactive activities with seniors.

We integrated timely and relevant Jewish Respect for elderly values in classroom lessons, before meeting with seniors and hands-on activities. The students studied from the Torah sources with curriculum developed by Maimonides. Together with ongoing, personal interaction with seniors, the students are learning that they can alleviate isolation among the elderly, and are developing relationships and friendships with seniors that will continue beyond the school year.

Two sides of the same Coin– Better Together is a great opportunity for Students and Seniors to realize that they are indeed both sides of the same coin, as we all have one soul that is constantly young being refreshed by it source: Hashem and that it’s the body externally that we may seem different. Avraham Avinu’s coin had an elderly man and woman on one side and a young man and woman on the other. This coin expressed not only this one-time miracle but also a constant state they preserved all their lives. The miraculous return to youthfulness came in the merit of Avraham and Sarah holding on to their inner youthfulness during old age & tapping into the wisdom, patience, and spirituality of old age even while young.

Diamonds Are Forever- The Jewish people are referred as a precious “eretz cheifetz” (Malachi 3:12). In the earth lie concealed many treasures, but one must dig deep to find them. We need recognize that all people are diamonds deep in their souls and help actualize every individual’s precious potential, by excavating, cutting and polishing and revealing the brilliance within, allowing everyone young and old inner personality to emerge and illuminate the world.

We learnt a perspective from Rabbi Simeon Schreiber an noted expert in elder care from his book  A Caring Presence which includes caring for elders and its main emphasis is that just your presence and show of care really makes a difference. Unique interpretation on Bikur not only visiting – ביקור really has the meaning בקר dawn giving them a new beginning bright future. People may feel at times: lonely, anxious, fearful when you visit them its like a ray of sunshine, to be cared for etc. For example one senior we visited was so thankful she called the girls grandmother 8 times to thank our students. You can also change the letters to קרב bringing true closeness.

Do you know Yoda? “Star Wars” commentary by Better Together Maimonides Students 
As everyone’s raving about the newest “Star Wars,” we’ve noticed interesting Jewish aspects related to our “Better Together”inter-generational program. Not in a faraway distant galaxy who knows when, but right here and now!
You need not be a great Hebraist to realize that Jedi, the knights battling the “Evil Dark Side” with “the Force” (spiritual mitzvah power) is similar to Judean or “Yehudi” Hebrew for Jew.
For those in the know, the iconic character the wise and ancient “Yoda” translates in Hebrew as “one who knows and experiences.”
Indeed, Jewish tradition associates long life with wisdom, which is why the Torah teaches us to respect our elders, Jewish and not. We don’t just pay homage to elders for their benefit; it is we who benefit from our elders’ hard earned wisdom and life experiences, to quote Yoda: “Always pass on what you learned!”
Yoda doesn’t look like a spring chicken; his face is wizened and wrinkled, but remember: He is the Jedi master par excellence, and his wisdom is beyond compare.
Our elders have much to teach us youth as we seek our way in life. Example: “Do. Or do not. There is no try,” says Yoda, reflecting the Talmud: “He who says, “I worked hard and succeeded…Believe him!” (Taanis 7)
In the Jewish vision of redemption, evil will be eradicated, and nations will beat their swords into plowshares, Good will triumph, and peace between people and countries will reign! But why run to distant galaxies to see the dark side lose; let’s work to win this “battle” here and now within ourselves.
We look to the real Divine force and pray to banish evil and free our world from darkness. Each of us plays our part when we choose good over evil. We then become “Sky Walkers,” yielding to the heavenly call, elevating our lives to transform our lowly world into a Divine abode.

SERACH & ELDERS we enjoyed a living lesson from Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski about Moshe searching for Yosef’s remains at the time of the Exodus. He couldn’t find them, so he asked Serach, a very old Jewish woman, who actually remembered Yosef and knew where to find his remains. Rabbi Twerski asked: “Didn’t Moshe speak to G-d all the time? Why did he have to ask an old woman? Why not ask G-d?” He explained that Serach had something that Moshe could never have. She remembered a generation long before Moshe, she saw Yaakov Avinu, she knew the 12 Tribes! It is true that older people may not be as technologically advanced as many of the kids today, but people who lived for 7 or 8 decades, have a first-hand perspective and acquired wisdom that even super-smart Google can’t provide. We are fortunate to have this great opportunity with Better Together.

We focused on the Hebrew word “Natan” = giving, expressing the “boomerang effect” of Chesed kindness. To inspire and motivate ourselves to make a difference for others, acts of kindness that return and boomerang back to us. We featured the biography of “Natan Straus- A life of Giving.” The beautiful Israeli coastal city Netanya derives its name from the Hebrew word ‘Natan’ – to give. The famous American businessman Nathan Straus visited Israel in 1912, and thus missed his boat back to America via England. That boat was the ill fated Titanic. Straus felt a sense of gratitude and became devoted to generously building the Land of Israel. He thus fulfilled the giving nature of his Hebrew name, Natan!”

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