By Regan Treewater-Lipes
(AJNews) – As the Edmonton Jewish community gradually establishes its ‘new normal’ many are trading in their Zoom activities for face-to-face human engagement. Downtown at the Jewish Senior Citizens’ Center (JDIC) it has been an active summer. People have begun to gather, reconnect, and socialize again.
“At the height of COVID our administration was still very busy working from home. We coordinated Zoom events and ongoing food programming. Now back in-person, twice a week we have lunches, we also arrange outings, mah-jong and scrabble events, fitness and yoga classes, lectures, and much more – we make sure there’s a lot going on,” explained Luba Allan during a recent interview with Alberta Jewish News. “We are organizing a trip to the Rosebud Theatre at the moment.”
The centre is not wasting any time re-engaging with its membership. “We are working on getting people together. A lot of people are still not ready to be back after COVID. Every year we invite lectures by academics and professionals on a diverse array of subjects – we are trying to get people to come out again,” said Inna Sukonnik. “Its good to get new blood and fresh ideas into the membership.”
Just as in pre-COVID times people from the community can purchase frozen soup from the JDIC’s kosher dairy kitchen to warm up and enjoy at home. At the height of pandemic isolation, Sukonik delivered soup to people with mobility problems, – right to their homes. Now, although frozen soup is still available for purchase, organizers hope to encourage more in-person attendance.
As Executive Director Svetlana Pavlenko explained, most people at the JDIC are fully vaccinated. “We try to maintain an environment that welcomes everyone and where everyone can feel comfortable,” she said.
Things at the JDIC are once again a buzz of activity. On July 26 the kitchen volunteers prepared a large meal for the regular twice weekly luncheon, but with the extra special consideration that the event was a celebration of all that month’s birthdays.
“We always do something special for our members’ birthdays,” explained Allan. “We have birthday cake and try to make sure there’s some sort of musical performance.”
On that day, attendees were joined by pianist Emma Oskin who regaled the crowd with some classic favourites, and the opportunity to sing along. The mood was jubilant as Pavlenko and Sukonnik joined Oskin in singing the iconic Russian-language Soviet-era song, “Katyusha” while people enjoyed their lunch, tea, coffee, and cake. This was of course followed by a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” sung in English, Hebrew, and Russian.
Although the JDIC is known as a seniors’ centre, Pavlenko and her dedicated team want Edmontonians to know that there is a youthful 55+ vibe breathing new energy into their programming. “We have always had ongoing programming like exercise classes twice a week, choir, our ‘Learning in Retirement’ educational series, and of course the lunches,” she explained. “But we are putting a lot of time and thought into planning intellectually stimulating events like lectures and discussion panels.”
Many of these programs are available in digital formats as well as in-person, giving people alternatives should they wish. “Some of our speakers are more comfortable than others with the simultaneous online and live delivery,” she elaborated.
On September 13, the JDIC will welcome Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, the Honourable Selma Lakhani, to join them and speak to their group. “The speakers we invite are extremely interesting,” explained Pavlenko proudly. “They are very diverse, and we think people from throughout the community will be interested.”
There are significant efforts being made by program organizers to promote inter-cultural awareness and understanding. “We are emphasizing cultural cooperation and inviting speakers that can give us greater perspective on this,” she added.
Since the easing of restrictions, the JDIC has brought many new volunteers into its ranks. “A lot of people have been looking for ways to get back into the community,” said Allan enthusiastically. One such new volunteer is Susan Baram. “It’s a wonderful way to meet people in the community. There are excellent programs and it’s great to be a part of it. It keeps me active. It’s a nice way to keep things from becoming stagnant. If I can help in any way, I’m happy to do it,” she explained enthusiastically.
“Over the last two years the centre has been closed so there wasn’t much to be done, but I’ve been volunteering since May,” she concluded. Like Baram, JDIC board member Gord Bushewsky has become a very active participant.
“My father used to be very involved here, and it’s meaningful to me to be able to contribute,” he explained. “Right now, I’m here twice a week, but perhaps in the future it will be more,” he concluded with a warm smile.
Annual membership at JDIC is only $30. They are highly motivated to engage new attendees, so for those who may still need to renew their membership, the JDIC is holding a special draw – sign up a friend and be entered to win two tickets for six meals, two tickets for six exercise classes, or two tickets to the annual Chanukkah extravaganza!
Things have most definitely kicked back into gear, and with the JDIC’s focus on revitalization there is more than ever being done to appeal to a younger demographic of seniors.
“There is something for everyone,” according to Pavlenko, and there has never been a better time to get involved. Those with piqued interest are encouraged to contact the JDIC and check out all they have to offer.
Regan Treewater-Lipes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.