Connecting young and old through letters from home

 

Phillip Schwartz reads a letter sent by a student who attends his alma mater.

The Jewish Pavilion program directors often go over and beyond the "call of duty" in the course of any given day. Take Gloria Green, who is the program director for assisted living facilities in Southwest Orlando. In addition to organizing and coordinating Purim festivities and now Passover seders for a dozen or so elder communities, she really gets to know "her" Jewish residents.

For example, Phillip Schwartz is the only Jewish resident at Arbor Cove, but that's of no matter to Green, she visits him regularly. Recently, he mentioned to her that he went to Hebrew school at Talmud Torah in Montreal. Green didn't just listen to him talk about his life, she took the time to do some research about the school and found their website. She then wrote to the principal about Schwartz and asked if there were any students who would be interested in writing to him. The principal passed the request on to the elementary school teachers. Rhonda Lehrer, a fourth grade Jewish Studies and Tefilla teacher at Talmud Torah, eagerly responded.


A few weeks later, Lehrer's mother traveled to Deerfield Beach to close up the family condo for the season. With her, she brought 10 letters for Schwartz from the 9- and 10-year-old students in Lehrer's class, along with a package of homemade hamantashen and a book, titled "Montreal Then and Now." The letters were written in English, French and some were in Hebrew. Schwartz speaks fluent French as well as English.

Green's daughter was visiting nearby and brought the surprise package to Green, who delivered them to Schwartz last week.

As he opened the letters and noshed on the cookies, Green video recorded him. Memories flooded back to him as he looked through the book. "A lot of change," he said as he studied one photo of Montreal. "I saw that place when I was a kid!" he said with elation as he gazed at another. With each page turn, Schwartz remembered more and more of his youth, and was curious to know what the population of Montreal is now.

"We can write to the students and ask them that," Green replied.

At the end of the day, Green posted the video on Youtube and sent a link to the school so that the students could see Schwartz' response to their gift of tzedakah. (The video can be viewed at https://youtu.be/XPgVAERJtEk )

"We watched the video in class," Lehrer wrote in email to Green, "and they were so happy that he enjoyed their letters. They were very proud of themselves."

Green has gone one step further with this "project." She connected several UCF students, who want to visit Seniors for their community service, with Schwartz and helped him write back to the students in his old alma mater.

After reading the letters and looking through the book, Green asked Schwartz, "Are you happy, Phillip?"

Smiling from ear to ear, he replied, "I'm in ecstasy!"

 

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