When the YJCC of Washington Township closed its doors in 2015, members of its board vowed to keep moving forward, looking for targeted and effective ways to serve the community. Some of its programs continued, and others did not.
Among those that continued was the group’s Active Seniors program, which began to meet at the township’s Temple Beth Or, drawing the same number of attendees as before and continuing through early November 2019. Now that program has moved once again, this time to Temple Beth Sholom in Fair Lawn, and now it runs under the auspices of the Jewish Community Center of Northern New Jersey, the umbrella structure that replaced the YJCC.
“We felt there was a population there,” in Fair Lawn, “that we could serve,” Ruth Beckman, the program’s supervisor, said.
Barry Kissler, the president of the JCCNNJ, said that “Temple Beth Sholom of Fair Lawn is centrally located near major roads and highways. It’s our hope that being in a more centralized location will enable the number of participants to grow.”
The Active Seniors group meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. As it did before, it offers fitness instruction, talks on current events, meditation, lectures, films, and card games. According to Ms. Beckman, attendance at the various events fluctuates, depending on the weather and available transportation.
She estimates that between 30 and 40 seniors turn out for the Tuesday fitness class, led by instructor Richard Portugal, and the kosher lunch afterward, at noon, draws about 25 to 30 people. On Thursdays, seniors are offered mindful meditation.
“It was a long time before we found the perfect fitness person,” she said. “Richard Portugal teaches exercises designed for the senior body, to improve balance, fitness, strength, and flexibility. There’s also breathing.” His class begins at 10:15 and lasts for an hour. Thursday meditation also begins at 10:15; it ends at 11.
People may come and go, “coming for lunch, leaving, and then coming back for cards,” Ms. Beckman said. “We’ve also had trips and anticipate coordinating more. We’ve seen shows, and we visited the Botanical Gardens for the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit after having an art historian speak to us.”
There is no charge for lunch, though the center does ask for a donation of $4. “It’s important to feed those who come,” Ms. Beckman said. “It’s a badge of honor that we have not turned away anyone.”
The seniors program is helped by a county grant, according to Lisa Harris Glass. She’s the chief planning officer of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, which helps support the JCC’s work.
“We receive a county grant for a kosher congregate meal program,” Ms. Glass said. The federation is the holder of that grant. “It supports meal programs at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly as well as this program. That grant stipulates that you can’t have a mandatory fee.” Still, she said, the money the group receives from the grant doesn’t come close to covering the program’s actual cost.
Ms. Beckman clearly is impressed by the participants in her programs, calling them “bright, experienced, curious,” and suggesting that “almost anything will appeal to some segment of the population. Authors come in, politicians come in, we’ve invited them all. We have very spirited discussions. The seniors are all up to date and well read.” She said she also is grateful to her volunteers, without whom “we wouldn’t be able to make attendees feel like guests.”
The Active Seniors program has no membership fee. “We’re creating our own community of seniors,” Ms. Beckman said, and its goal is for members of this new community to “support each other and care about each other.” While program participants have tended to be in their 70s, “I’ve noticed after two weeks here that a younger demographic is coming, in their early 60s. It’s trending younger.”
Her program still is in formation, and she is putting together a planning committee to solicit input and gauge local needs. “Our program is important for this group,” she said. “Jewish seniors need a place to go and make their own community. We’re trying to make it here.” She said she is amazed by what the seniors offer each other. “They sit and talk and share.”
She also is excited about the “blending of two communities. People in this age group may have difficulty making new friends. This is very safe and welcoming. There are things to do with like-minded people. That’s exciting and invigorating. They’re like college students from the neck up. There’s so much they can share as they make new connections.
“These people are our treasures,” she said. “They can’t be ignored.”
No one thing has surprised her, but she admits to being “surprised almost every day by the things some people are interested in, or by their humor. One woman has been on safari six times.” Ms. Beckman has created a program where people will be encouraged to bring in an item and talk about the memories associated with it.
“JCCNNJ’s goals for the program are to meaningfully engage as many participants as possible,” Mr. Kissler said. “It is incredibly satisfying to see the many happy faces of those utilizing the program. Ruth does a fantastic job of bringing talented professionals to talk about current events, Jewish programs, and arts and crafts. She uses social media to stay in touch and always is available via her phone.”
For more information about the program, go to jccnnj.org or email Ms. Beckman at RuthB@jccnnj.org.