Robin B. Zeiger
Entering the ceramics room at Bet David, a day program for senior citizens in Emek Hefer, is like entering another world. It is cozy, "lived in" and inviting to folks blessed with a creative side. Soft Israeli music plays in the background, creating a meditative atmosphere. Tasteful sketches and paintings grace the walls. Half-finished clay creations of all shapes and sizes find their temporary homes on the shelves. The teacher, Leah Arbel, buzzes about helping and offering words of praise. A small group of men and women lovingly craft and paint their creations.
This brand new ceramics room is the due to the vision and generosity of Ric and Rhona Arenstein of Richmond, Virginia. Rhona has loved crafting with clay since her youth. Her husband, Ric, remembers the beautiful pieces that graced the bookshelves of her apartment when they first met. It is this passion that led Rhona to donate her time for a successful pottery class at Richmond's Beth Shalom Gardens, an assisted living facility that services the Jewish and general community. Now, 32 years later, Ric and Rhona have gifted Emek Hefer with a piece of their vision and commitment. Once weekly, residents participate in an already overflowing ceramics class.
This ceramics room is reminiscent of any good art class at a local community center or college. Yet here, the average age of the participants is 82. Some arrive in wheelchairs. Some, victims of stroke, paint and create with one hand, while the other hand remains still at their side. Yet, others have a full-time aide, who helps hold the creation while they paint.
Karin Michali, Bet David's social worker, explains the history of Bet David. Bet David used to be comprised of two small facilities in separate old schools. About ten years ago, they moved to the new facility, which is fully handicapped accessible. Recently Bet David expanded its existing facility, yet it is still bursting at the seams.
Programming is offered 5 days a week from 8-1:30. Participants are treated to breakfast, a coffee break, and a hot lunch. They choose from a variety of programs, including exercise, art classes, lectures, religious studies, television, discussion groups, and cultural events. Once a week, a local vender brings a variety of groceries for purchase. The program is funded by national insurance, the Emek Hefer Regional Council and fees and private donations. But there is always more to do and offer.
As Karin and I walk around the place, two words come to mind; bustling and loving. There is activity in every corner. I visit a small, out of the way locked wing that is specially suited for participants plagued with Alzheimer's. They too are busy with an exercise class, bouncing a large ball back and forth.
Participants and staff stop Karin along the way to talk and ask questions. She seems to know everyone and has a treasure trove of stories. This is no small feat, given that over 100 residents from all walks of life and parts of the region attend programs every day
Karin also shows me the large outdoor bird cage filled with singing birds. With a touch of sadness, Karin tells me the birds were dedicated by Neomi Pomeranz (who passed away in the past month)in memory of her husband
Ric and Rhona are also two people with a passion. They began their love affair with Bet David in 2003, through Partnership 2000, the Federation and Jewish Agency Joint Program. Ric was then president of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond. Inn one of the first visits to their partnered community of Emek- Hefer, Rhona warmly embraced several of the residents of the "Emek" (valley) in Beit David. She witnessed first hand the impact it had on their lives.
Subsequently , Amira Lamdani, Director of Bet David visited Richmond. She shared with Ric her vision for expansion and for creating a clay studio. Ric immediately embraced the project. He saw the strong parallels between the work in Emek Hefer and Rhona's work in Richmond. This, to him, this was a perfect venue to honor his wife and her commitment to art, the elderly, and the land of Israel.
Rhona and Ric recently visited Bet David again with the 2010 Mission of the Richmond Jewish Federation. The Partnership 2000 team from both Richmond and Emek Hefer Ric and Rhona with am special birthday gift, a heartwarming dedication ceremony for the room. In addition, the mission and the Emek Hefer hosts planted a "Partnership 2000 tree" in the garden.
Rhona was delighted and excited to be back. She is very unassuming. But Ric tells the story of how important Rhona's art class has been to the residents of Beth Shalom in Richmond. Many times after a resident has passed away, a daughter or son sends Rhona one of their art projects with a note on how much she had enriched their parents' lives. Thus, it is very symbolic that the Arensteins were greeted with an exhibition of Beth Shalom art on the walls of Beit David.
Soon it will be time for Bet David to send an exhibit to Richmond. Sorry I can't see it there, but I am honored to be able to witness the creative efforts here.
Spotlight on Residents
MOSHE, 70, carefully finishes his Chanukah Menorah with one hand. The other hand remains still at his side. While he paints, with pride, he explains that his family made Aliyah in 1948 from Kafka, Russia. He was only 6 at the time. They moved to the nearby K'far Chaim and begin a family business of farming and exporting flowers to other countries. Moshe continued in the family tradition of working hard until he suffered a stroke several years ago. During his recovery he began to attend Bet David. In spite of his limp and even though daily bus service is offered, Moshe, instead chooses to walk 45 minutes to and from each day.
Moshe speaks highly of Bet David. He often has trouble choosing between all the possible activities. In addition, on Thursday, he attends college for senior citizens located on Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh.
Interestingly before Bet David, Moshe had never participated in art classes. Moshe is too modest, but Karin shows me a sketch he had completed. It is good. Likewise his Menorah is turning out very nicely. I challenge him to send me a picture of the lit Menorah on Chanukah. In spite of his disabilities, in his golden years, Moshe seems to have found many wonderful ways to keep busy and productive.
SHOSHANA is a Jerusalemite. Her father, a member of the civil forces, was killed by a Jordanian bomb during the War of Independence. She lived and worked in Jerusalem area most of her life. However after she suffered a stroke several years, she moved to live near her daughter and grandchildren. Bet David became an important and valued part of her life. Now Rhona's ceramic room is enriching her days.