Helping caregivers understand Jewish residents


January 18, 2019

By Lisa Levine

If you are an American Jew, chances are good that you have encountered many non-Jews who know little or have misconceptions about Jewish religion or culture. So if you or a loved one were moving into a senior care facility, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to find that it did not occur to the non-Jewish caregiving staff to wish you a happy new year on Rosh Hashanah or offer you matzoh instead of a dinner roll on Passover.

But in greater Orlando, most of the facilities have staff that are aware of Jewish traditions and work to make sure that those traditions are observed and respected so that their Jewish residents feel at home. That’s because Jewish Pavilion staff and volunteers have been working for many years to educate these caregivers about Jewish culture.

One of their best teaching resources is a 12-page glossy color pamphlet called “A Guide for Caregivers of the Jewish Elderly.” It was conceived about seven years ago when Pamela Ruben, then a Pavilion volunteer, and Nancy Ludin, Pavilion CEO, “realized that culturally, there are a lot of gaps if you’re a Jewish senior,” Ruben recalled. For the most part, the seniors weren’t having their holidays and traditions acknowledged by most facility staff members—not out of malice, but through lack of awareness.

So Ruben, who as an educator had written several informational booklets, volunteered to help the Pavilion develop an easy-to-follow guidebook that would explain the Jewish holidays that are most widely observed: Shabbat, the High Holidays, Chanukah and Passover.

“A Guide for Caregivers of the Jewish Elderly” features lots of photos of seniors celebrating their heritage with Jewish Pavilion staff and volunteers. It explains the Jewish Pavilion and its mission, and describes the Jewish holidays—both how the Pavilion celebrates them with residents at its programs and how facility staff can also help residents observe and celebrate them on days when the Pavilion is not on site.

To make it user-friendly, said Ruben, “we really broke it down to the most basic elements.” The booklet contains brief explanations of holidays along with such fundamentals as supplies needed for candle lighting and blessings over wine and challah, with the corresponding Hebrew prayers in transliteration and translation, plus appropriate greetings for each holiday. The booklet also covers traditional foods for each holiday, with some recipes or suggested sources for certain items.

The Jewish Pavilion has distributed the guide to facilities all over the area and continues to give it to newly hired key staff members. It has served as a springboard for ongoing cultural connection between staff and Jewish residents, and it widely is appreciated as a valuable resource.

About three years ago, after inviting feedback from facility staff, Ruben updated the guide, this time in her capacity as the Jewish Pavilion marketing director, a role from which she stepped down early last year to pursue other opportunities.

Today, as she once again serves Jewish Pavilion seniors as a volunteer, Ruben is happy to see the evidence of the Pavilion’s successful efforts to introduce some Yiddishkeit (Jewish culture) to the facilities she visits, in the form of mezzuzahs on some entrances, menorahs among the Christmas décor, or a “happy Chanukah” or “good Shabbos” wish from staff to Jewish residents.

“If you understand the culture of others, it’s so easy to make someone happy with such a small gesture,” she said.


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