Today at L’Chaim, the Jewish adult day centre, one of our clients said the full kiddush, I think for the first time in his life.
He grew up with parents who were atheists and so, at the age of 90, he has still never learned to read Hebrew. He never went to synagogue or temple as a child and of course he never went to Hebrew school. Today he told us that when he decided to start going to L’Chaim, he said, “Maybe now I’ll learn how to be Jewish.”
He’s not the only one. As I learn the stories of all our clients, I see that many, or most of them, are learning possibly more about Judaism at L’Chaim than they did throughout their whole lives prior to that.
Working with elderly people is such a pleasure because when it comes to religion, there is way less defensiveness, if any, relative to my peers. This is not to say they aren’t thinking. These are highly intelligent, interesting and knowledgeable people. But they are now willing to hear about Judaism, about their heritage. And I, a 29-year-old girl from Toronto and Jerusalem, find myself in Vancouver, being the one teaching them.
I get to teach them Jewish songs, Hebrew songs. We learn together about Jewish history (I say “together” because my history knowledge is embarrassing). I prepare programs about the weekly Torah portion (parashat hashavua) and the holidays. And we engage in discussions about ideas.
We just had our annual Chanuka party. This is the one evening event a year for all the clients and their guests (family and friends). It’s so beautiful, Rabbi Dina-Hasida lighting Chanuka candles with a client, a performer singing Chanuka songs, us employees and clients singing along, at least when he sings the songs that we’ve been practicing for a couple of weeks beforehand.
It is festive and it is exciting.
I go into L’Chaim at the beginning of each workday not knowing exactly what will happen. But it seems like there is one thing that almost always happens and that is that I leave feeling fulfilled and like I really contributed to these wonderful people’s lives. I just wonder if they realize how much they have contributed to mine.