Grant spurs relationships between Hebrew High teens, Handmaker residents

(L-R): Aaron Green, Nathan Shapiro, Peggy Simon and Haley Dveirin share lunch at Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging on Nov. 8. (Courtesy Tucson Hebrew High)

Tucson Hebrew High students are creating relationships with residents of Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging, aided by a recent “Better Together” grant from an anonymous donor. The grant supports programs for young Jewish students to engage with the elderly in a hands-on fashion, encouraging the students to live out Jewish values while also supporting the well-being of the elderly.

On Sunday, Nov. 8, 10 teens gathered for the third session of the new intergenerational program, which Hebrew High has dubbed “Tracing Roots & Building Trees.” Each Hebrew High student chose a resident at Handmaker to be their partner for the school year. The pairs meet once a month to enjoy lunch and a Jewish learning activity.

“We come here and talk with residents and hang out with them and do activities,” says Aaron Green, a ninth-grade Hebrew High student.

November’s theme was “National Allegiance,” in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday. Program director Sharon Glassberg shared the story of the creation of the Pledge of Allegiance, informing the group that the original pledge was written to be used in every country. Each student/resident pair was given a map of the world so that they could place a sticker on each place they have lived, tracing their allegiances around the world.

“I learned that Nathan, during World War II, went to the Philippines and he helped demilitarize Japan,” says Green of his partner, Nathan Shapiro, who was an artillery captain in the U.S. Army. Partners shared their life experiences as a way of continuing to get to know each other.

Ninth grader Erika Spivack paired up with 101-year-old Handmaker resident Gertrude Shankman. “I had always volunteered for the Jewish cause, so it’s not a new thing [for me],” says Shankman on why she appreciates the Hebrew High program. “Having been in their position and having volunteered, it’s nice to see them get it.”

A documentary film crew was hired to capture some of the touching moments from the “Tracing Roots & Building Trees” meetings, another benefit of the “Better Together” grant.

“I volunteered here all year last year, so I really like coming here,” says Haley Dveirin, who is also a ninth grader. Dveirin’s bat mitzvah project involved volunteering at Handmaker and acting as a member of Handmaker’s Youth Leadership team.

“Haley made me feel very young again and I loved every minute of it,” says Peggy Simon of spending the afternoon with her partner.

The fourth “Tracing Roots & Building Trees” meeting will take place on Dec. 20, when partners will use ancestry.com to discover more about their family histories. Professional artists from the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block will be in attendance to help the teens and Handmaker residents design family trees, which will become permanent art installations at Handmaker.