Original songs, tzedakah mark seder for seniors, kids

Ethel Glickman, 82, sat between Dina Singer, 8, and Hannah Levin, 7, waiting for the annual intergenerational seder to begin at San Francisco's Jewish Home for the Aged.

The main lounge filled last week with a lively mix of second-graders and seniors.

"I think they're astonished that we're so old," Glickman said cheerfully, correcting the notion that she's acting as a foster grandparent. "A foster great-grandparent," she explained.

Hannah and Dina, students at Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Francisco, agreed that there were surprises at the Home — from the age of the residents to the fact that they exercise and create artwork.

Soon, about 70 seniors and children were sharing their latest creative activity: original songs to celebrate the Passover tale of freedom.

For years, second-graders from the Jewish day school have been visiting the Home for the Aged to share a traditional seder during school hours, according to Suzy Monasch, director of volunteers at the Home.

This year, there were two new twists. For one, the seder became a songfest, with songs written by Brandeis students and residents of the Home with the help of songwriter-in-residence Judith-Kate Friedman.

Secondly, both generations joined in collecting bread and chametz products, which Jews remove from their homes before Passover, for distribution to the Ozanam Center, a San Francisco homeless shelter.

Gladys Jonah, 85, bought a package of cookies for each of her two "foster grandchildren," so that they could give it to the homeless.

With the chametz piled on the stage, songwriter Friedman and Brandeis teacher Dinah Stroe led the children and seniors in the story of the Exodus from Egypt, told through song and questions and answers.

"What do we do with our bread?" the children were asked.

"We clean it up," answered one kid.

"We give it to the poor," added another.

In addition to the traditional chanting of the Four Questions by the children, the event, held Tuesday of last week, featured three new songs: "We Crossed the Red Sea," written by the second-graders and revised by Friedman and the senior residents; "Yum, Yum, Yum," created by residents of the Home's Alzheimer's unit; and "Hallelujah! Spring is Here," written by residents Etta Perkins, Jeanette Vanoss and Jonah during Friedman's songwriting classes at the Home.

The original songs tied new ways of celebrating with older traditions, as well as giving the chametz to the homeless, Friedman said. The song "We Crossed the Red Sea" ended with the words "we'll do a real mitzvah [good deed], we'll give it to the poor."

Jonah was full of enthusiasm for the program. "It was such a beautiful morning," she said. "I was so proud of these kids." Discussing Friedman — who works under a grant from the California Arts Council and is also a singer with Vocolot — Jonah said, the songwriter has "brought joy to all of us."

Said Eugeniya Krivskaya, 8, "My favorite part was when we sang songs."

"My favorite was the charoset and matzah," said Avi Silverman, 8.

The intergenerational program goes back several years, according to Monasch. While only second-graders participate, the children and their families often develop lasting relationships with the seniors, writing letters and inviting them to their homes.

"I love the intergenerational seder," Monasch said. "I just love that we're helping the homeless as well as cleaning out the chametz."