Thanks to a communal partnership, two groups bifurcated by generations are now soundly conjoined. Since September 2016, members of G2G (Generation to Generation, a program of the Jewish Association on Aging) and J Line, Pittsburgh’s Jewish teen learning program, have banded together for intergenerational podcasting. With the aid of microphones and other equipment, program participants record oral histories on digital files.
“One thing I really get out of this is I learn a lot of life lessons. With all of the knowledge that the seniors have it really helps me as I go further in life,” said Leah Fireman, an 11th-grader involved in the program.
Last week, Fireman and fellow teen Jacob Wiesenfeld, along with seniors Ruth Ganz and Doris Kennedy, demonstrated how the program works. While seated at a table before an audience in the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s Katz Auditorium, the quartet engaged in a recorded discussion on family traditions, memories of Squirrel Hill and New Year’s resolutions.
Her goal for 2017 is to “appreciate every day. And every day I thank God in the morning. [This is] quite a gift and I’m lucky to have it,” Kennedy told her young listeners.
“My life, with its ups and downs, I’m still here and I hope you all do good things,” echoed Ganz.
Rabbi Jeremy Markiz, who recently arrived in Pittsburgh, guides the project.
“The takeaway of this phenomenal program is that the teens and the seniors have developed deep bonds of friendship with each other while also learning that things may not have been that different for teens of the 1930s and teens today,” he said.
Pairing the parties is a “very good idea,” said Jack Markowitz, a Squirrel Hill resident who attended the program. “Taking oral histories is an excellent idea and it will encourage the teens to ask questions, to interview, to ask who, what, where when, why and how. The old generation has information and it ought not to be lost.”
Maggie Leffler, a Pittsburgh-based physician and author, joined those at last week’s get-together. One of her three novels, “The Secrets of Flight” tells the story of a friendship between a teenager and senior citizen who meet in a writing group at the Squirrel Hill Library.
Apart from recounting excerpts of the novel and her own history, Leffler praised the intergenerational collaboration.
“They may have discovered that the gap between them is not too great at all,” she said.
The stories and exchanges shared since September have been impactful, said Wiesenfeld. “Something that really surprised me was that I would ask an innocent question and stumble upon something brilliant. … These questions that you don’t expect to get anything out of and they turned into unbelievable moments and lessons.”
Others agree with Wiesenfeld’s assessment. Recently, the JAA learned that its G2G program won a programming award from the Association of Jewish Aging Services (AJAS), said Tanya Bielski-Braham, JAA’s development and communications specialist. Beverly Brinn, JAA’s director of development and community engagement, will accept the award on behalf of the organization next April at the national AJAS conference in Memphis, Tenn.
Given the program’s positive reception, Markiz is considering enlarging a base beyond only four teens and three seniors.
“The goal of the project was depth not breadth, [but] we’re definitely exploring expanding it to more seniors and teens,” he said.
Interested parties are invited to join the next session’s launch on Jan. 22 at 10:30 a.m. on the second floor of the JCC’s Robinson Building, said Carolyn Gerecht, the JCC’s director of teen engagement and experiences.
Or for those wishing to operate independent of the program, there are 300 residents eager to tell their stories, said Deborah Winn-Horvitz, JAA’s president and CEO, who encouraged people to meet with seniors at the JAA’s various sites. “There is so much we can learn from the visits.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.