Students seek answers in Middle East; centenarian gets encore celebration

Building Bridges spring break

(L-R): Gavin Gondalwala, Sarah Cassius, Patrick Neuner and Yunny Seo visit Rawabi, the first planned Palestinian city. (Courtesy Sarah Cassius)

Sarah Cassius, finishing her junior year at George Washington University with a dual major in international affairs and geography with a concentration in sustainability, traveled on a Building Bridges trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories over spring break. The trip was sponsored by GWU’s Hillel and underwritten by a donor; participants were GWU student leaders selected through an application and interview process. The Building Bridges mission is to equip young people with the communication and leadership skills necessary to transform divisive attitudes in their communities. Their vision is a more just and inclusive world, where global citizens learn to understand different perspectives, rather than perpetuate their own.

A 2015 graduate of Catalina Foothills High School, Cassius had been active locally in USY, Hebrew High, B’nai Tzedek, Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing!, and as a Camp Ramah counselor in California. Her previous Israel sojourns included Birthright and Ramah Israel Seminar. The purpose of this journey was to gain a better understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

From March 8-18, a diverse group of 25 students became close friends. According to Cassius, their mantra was to accept the feelings, not the facts. This meant that however uncomfortable something made them, they had to listen to the narrative without judgement, because this was someone’s real-life story.

“Our group had the privilege to speak with everyone from experts on a topic, to a representative from the Palestinian Authority, to the mayor of Efrat, a settlement in the West Bank. We had conversations that made us uncomfortable and took us out of our comfort zones. Daily, we would hear the phrase, ‘Listen to understand, not to respond.’ We practiced active listening and empathy when speaking to each other and while listening to the brave people who shared their stories with us,” Cassius says.

She continues: “In many group reflections, we wondered aloud why we were able to have such different conversations abroad — about gay marriage, religion, politics — but couldn’t have these conversations at home. I’m going to make a gross generalization here – that students at GWU don’t know how to disagree. I am guilty of it myself.” Back on campus, while journaling and reflecting, she posted on social media: “This is a commitment to honor the people I met during this trip, to share their stories, and to engage in constructive discourse. If you disagree, then let’s talk!”

The gift of longevity

Pam Weston (left) joins her mother, Yeta Weston, at the 2018 Salute to Centenarians on May 4. (

For the fourth year in a row, beginning in 2015, Yeta Weston, 102, has attended the annual Salute to Centenarians. Co-sponsored by the Pima Council on Aging and Tucson Medical Center, this year’s May 4 event filled TMC’s Marshall Conference Center with celebrants, their families, friends and/or caregivers. The event is held during Older Americans Month, with seniors, 99 years and older, invited to celebrate their longevity.

Statistically, these centenarians are overwhelmingly female. According to the last census, they numbered 240 in Pima County. The program included the celebrants’ biographies and photos highlighted on a screen, along with greetings, acknowledgements, a boxed lunch, cake, and musical entertainment.

Weston’s background:

Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Weston has three daughters, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. A first-generation American, she grew up as the oldest of three daughters. Besides being an accomplished artist, as a young woman, she and her friends would visit the beaches of Rockaway, New York, swimming the length of 30 or more blocks each way in the strong waves and ocean current. Yeta met Aaron Weston, her late husband of 67 years, while both worked at a camp in the Catskills. It took her seven years to say “yes” to marry that young man!

Following Aaron’s WWII service, the couple raised their family on Long Island. Aaron practiced family medicine and Yeta worked as his nurse and office manager. She was active in charities and continued to paint and draw. In her 60s, she became a stone sculptor, working with large blocks of marble and granite using power tools, She writes prose and poetry and is noted for the fantastic costumes she created for herself and Aaron when some party, play or event called for it. The handcrafted greeting cards Yeta sends to friends and family are cherished. In 1998, when the couple retired to Green Valley to be closer to family, Aaron, who had aspirations of becoming a rabbi, acted as lay rabbi for the newly formed Beth Shalom Temple Center; Yeta became the lay rebbetzin. Now residing at a local senior living community, Yeta still leads an active life, participating in water and aerobics exercises, reading, traveling, and attending local events such as this.

The theme question at this year’s event: What do you do to celebrate life? Theme answer: Our matriarch enjoys speaking with family and staying informed on world events.

Time to share

It’s already summer hiatus for P.S. The column will be back in print in the Aug. 31 Rosh Hashanah issue and will be devoted to Israel summer travel. Keep me posted — 319-1112, be safe and stay cool. L’shalom.