(This article originally appeared on the Times of Israel.)
As a team of Geriatric Care Managers, we make it our business to be the best, most all-encompassing resource for seniors and their families in Israel. We take pride in providing information on a full range of topics – from hidden government benefits, to staying social, to managing a parent-child relationship through Alzheimer’s. And every once in a while we come across something, or someone, truly remarkable. Like Eva.
When Eva was three years old, she took the cookie given to her at nursery school and broke it in half to share with her grandfather, who had brought her to school that day. “You didn’t get one,” she said. “Let’s make sure you have one.”
Since then, Eva has blossomed — and so has her love for seniors. In her New Jersey hometown, she spends much of her free time in local nursing homes and assisted living facilities, listening to the life stories of the senior residents. Eva seems to revel in their histories, their anecdotes, and their mere presence, says her mom, Heather. “Ever since a class trip to a senior center about four years ago, Eva has really connected with members of the older generation,” continues Heather, “so we help her foster that connection by maintaining the relationships.”
When the time came to plan her Bat Mitzvah, Eva forwent an opulent dance party with her friends, opting instead for a chessed-based, inclusive celebration with seniors… in Israel.
Eva’s family was apprehensive, at first, by the logistics of such an event: where would be the best place, how many people could they involve, and what kind of activity would work for the seniors? Then they thought of Melabev, a day center for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and where Eva’s great grandmother had been a client for many years.
Hopeful, Heather reached out to Dvora, the general manager of Melabev’s English speaking branch in Talpiyot. While Dvora had hosted multigenerational chessed events at Melabev before, she had never made a Bat Mitzvah there! Undeterred and eager to bring a new adventure to her seniors, she agreed to partner with Eva’s family to make it happen. The next step was to find the perfect activity.
Recalling one of the famous Paint Nights Eva and Heather attended as the craze swept America, and the fun they had that evening, Eva suggested it as her Bat Mitzvah activity. But would they find it in Israel?
The answer was a resounding YES! Heather found Nina, the owner of Paint Party Events Israel, and together with Dvora and Nina, Eva’s family hosted an inspiring, magical simcha for nearly 50 seniors.
The Bat Mitzvah started out with a sing-along for the group with more advanced dementia. “Most can’t speak, but their eyes lit up. New people, and especially kids, are an attraction around here,” Dvora explains.
Nancy, the activity manager for the group with more advanced dementia and a 13-year Melabev veteran, added, “Music is very therapeutic for our clients. It uses a different part of the brain than the part that forms words; the part that has deteriorated. People who have lost their capability to communicate via words can still sing a song; they often remember every single word, even if they’re normally non-verbal. And my seniors love to sing!” Eva’s grandmother played keyboard and everybody belted out melodies – from old-school Israeli folk to “You Are My Sunshine”. She even took requests! Afterwards, all the seniors with verbal skills gave a bracha to Eva.
“Everyone felt magnetic. Energized,” described Dvora. “They felt honored to be included. To be respected.”
The paint party followed, with both the beginning stage and middle-stage dementia groups, and succeeded beyond expectations. “It was remarkable,” declared Dvora. “There were people who never participate in art, who participated in this! Something about being part of a simcha, something about the youth being here. It looked like a party, it felt like a party, it was a party.”
Nina founded Paint Party Events four years ago after making Aliya as a single mother. In the land of startups, reinvention and rebirth, Nina did exactly that. With a background in art education, she developed a technique for teaching anyone to paint anything in under two hours. “While it’s a fun activity and a self-esteem booster for anyone, it’s all the more so for the special needs and elderly communities,” says Nina. “It was so therapeutic for them. They came in saying, ‘We can’t do that!’ and we taught them that they CAN. It was empowering. The feeling of accomplishment was almost palpable. They beamed with pride, knowing that nobody did it for them. Nobody helped them. They painted — created — independently.”
Painting revived old memories and skills in some of the seniors. One man had been an artist for much of his life, and he embraced the party. Afterward, he asked Nina if he could buy canvasses regularly! Another man used to paint with his daughter, but he hadn’t touched a brush in years, and he was so grateful to relive those times.
“The seniors initially didn’t have the confidence,” Nina related. “It seemed intimidating. But each one overcame it. Some completed the painting like the example, and some went entirely in their own direction. I watched creativity and determination appear before my eyes.”
Eva approached every single member of the party individually. They each gave her a bracha and she said something about them and their painting.
It was a powerful experience. Dvora explains, “When the younger generation not only acknowledges but also respects and includes the elderly in their life and their simcha, it generates tremendous joy and a real feeling of I’m still somebody.
“Our clients, at this event, were recognized. They were full fledged participants in the Bat Mitzvah. The simcha came to them. They were honored.”
Dvora continues, “The most telling result is that all these seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia… the were moved. It made an impression. They remember a special event with a special girl. They remember a feeling. They don’t remember her name or the balloons, but we couldn’t believe that they all retained an impression. There is a cognizance locked in there about it, and we are so proud of Eva for fostering that. We are grateful.”