3 agencies join forces for intergenerational outreach

Can three generations work together?

A new intergenerational program, pooling the talents and resources of three Jewish organizations, provides an affirmative answer to that question.

The program, called Dorot, is a collaboration between Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center in Walnut Creek and Jewish Family and Children's Services of the East Bay.

The three institutions received a $5,700 joint grant from Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay.

Dorot, which means "generations" in Hebrew, got its start as a series of informal preschool meetings between children and parents at Isaiah about three years ago, and has since expanded in scope.

It now includes ongoing lectures and support groups serving preschool families through seniors — although planning for seniors is still in its nascent stages.

The program fills a void in the Contra Costa Jewish community, according to Walnut Creek resident Rachel Fields, an Isaiah member who has been involved with Dorot since its inception.

Fields, who is expecting her third child shortly, said that among Dorot's most popular programs are early-childhood language development, teaching Jewish values and workshops such as how to talk to children about God.

"Then there are programs like the December question — which really address the big issues concerning the holiday season. What does a Jewish child do during a season which has so many references to Christmas?

"I think it's essential that people don't go outside the community to get these answers and services," Fields said.

With more than 800 households, the Reform Temple Isaiah has an ongoing need for child care and preschool programs. In fact, most of its new members are families with young children.

Susan Rideout, a Danville resident who is the mother of a 2-year-old and 6-year-old twins, said there was an initial concern that Isaiah's preschool programs would compete with those of the CCJCC, but when the center "heard about Dorot, they were thrilled," she said.

"I think the program is especially important to show that the Jewish community here in the East Bay really has a support network in place for young families who first arrive here, and don't know where to turn.

"It's also an ideal program for someone in the community who has limited financial resources, or no affiliation," Rideout added.

Another benefit that Dorot provides, according to Debbi Mishael, program director of the CCJCC, is a framework for parent-child dialogue.

"After listening to one Dorot lecture about sex, I finally bit the bullet and had a really honest sit-down talk with my 9-year-old daughter," Mishael said. "Dorot really gave me the comfort level necessary to initiate that dialogue."

Mishael added that although a joint effort between three large entities could be fraught with "headaches and downsides," the occasional bureaucratic tangles are mitigated by the results.

Moreover, the program sends an important message to families and to the community, according to Rabbi Ted Feldman, executive director of JFCS of the East Bay.

"At its core, the program improves the quality of services to children and their families," he said. "But perhaps more importantly, Dorot sends an important message of cooperation.

"I think the idea of Dorot is that organizations within the Jewish community can and should work together."