There is a saying in Judaism -- L’dor v’dor which literally means from generation to generation. Typically, it is understood to mean the transmission of the culture’s values, rituals, traditions, and history to the next generation. But what if we expanded this understanding, that L’dor v’dor is not uni-directional from older to younger people. Rather, it is a communal obligation to strengthen the bonds between and among all generations for certainly we, as a community, embody more than just two generations. As has become even more evident in this time of pandemic, we are a silo-ed society. Compared to years past, we are largely segregated and separated by age. Children go to school with like-aged peers. Once we reach retirement, we are less likely to be in multi-age groups. We are more likely to live as nuclear families geographically distant from our relatives. Living in a silo leads to negative consequences such as social isolation, loneliness, and ageism. Ageism is the one prejudice that is also held by its own in-group members. That is, even older adults can be ageist which further exacerbates this generational segregation.
In the midst of this silo-ing, there are several intergenerational programs that address the needs of multiple generations at the same time. In a recent survey, the organization Generations United found that the top 5 benefits cited by both youth and older adult participants were:
- Decreased isolation/ Increased connectedness
- Increased self-esteem
- Increased understanding of issues facing older adults and youth
- Increased trust across ages
- Increased sense of community
While there are many ways to do intergenerational programming, the ones that provide the most benefit to all participants include six key elements; they are relational, reciprocal, respectful, responsive, empowering and inclusive.
CJE’s Gidwitz Place at Weinberg Community for Senior Living has been hosting a successful intergenerational program that includes preschoolers from the Moriah Congregation’s Early Learning Center for the past two years. Children travel to Gidwitz twice a month to participate in a variety of activities with residents of Gidwitz. Embodying the principles cited above, the activities have been a benefit to older adults, young children, and staff of both organizations.
Older adults serve as mentors and tutors for school–aged children. Adolescents serve as technology support for older adults. Many times, senior centers or adult centers are co-located with preschools that foster consistent and long-term relationship building between the generations. Recent innovations include college students renting apartments or rooms in senior living communities and participating in community activities or providing assistance as needed. There is also a movement toward intergenerational co-housing in which intentional communities are built with older and younger people alike. And everyone benefits from the arrangement.
To learn more about this movement, visit Generations United (www.gu.org), a non-profit with a mission to “improve the lives of children, youth, and older people through intergenerational collaboration, public policies, and programs for the enduring benefit of all.”
In this time of social distancing, we are all now far more segregated and isolated than ever before. The time has come to look to both new and old solutions. The New York Times recently published an article about pairing high school students with older adults as pen pals. Some are writing actual letters sent by the U.S. Postal Service and others are using email. For those living alone, this crisis makes the need to build bridges between and among the generations even more acute. May we all find ways to connect as we get through this strange and difficult time.