Typewriter Generation at Reutlinger goes online

At 87, Sylvia Klepper has the world at her fingertips. She keeps abreast of news and book reviews from The New York Times, follows movie commentaries from Ebert and Roeper and shares her opinions with Congress and the president. She's doing this — and more — over the Internet.

"All my life I've enjoyed going from one thing to another," says the resident of the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville. And now she can do it electronically.

Klepper is honing her computer skills in a class offered at the Reutlinger Community titled, "The Jewish Internet for the Typewriter Generation." It is one of three spring classes in the Learning for Life Series at the Reutlinger. "Klezmer 101" and "Hollywood's Images of the Jews" are being offered as well.

The classes are co-sponsored by Lehrhaus Judaica under its Learning for Life at Home older-adult education program, with support from the Koret Foundation and Barbara and Richard Rosenberg. The Reutlinger Community is now a site for the Learning for Life Series, which will be held in the spring and fall. Classes are listed in the Lehrhaus course catalogue and open to the public.

"The residents are always asking for stimulating programs," says Carol Goldman, the Reutlinger Community's director of programs, who keeps a lookout for topics of interest to an older Jewish population. The Internet had been an interest for many residents for some time, explains Goldman but the prevailing attitude had usually been, "'I'd love to try it, but I don't know where to begin.'"

Enter Dan Fingerman, president of Computer Insights, a microcomputer training and consulting firm in Berkeley, who has spent the last 20 years teaching people how to use computers. An author or co-author of more than a dozen computer books and instructional guides, he wrote "The Internet for the Typewriter Generation" (Ten Speed Press, 1999) for "aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents, so they would be able to get some understanding of what this new medium was all about."

"These classes are by far the most rewarding," says Fingerman, who takes his cues from the students and tailors class material to the interests and questions that come up. In the first couple of sessions he helped residents find information on health, travel and genealogy, and they accessed Web sites for CNN, the Purim story, hamantaschen recipes and a Web cam trained on the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

"We investigate and explore together," says Fingerman, who enjoys highlighting the diversity of sites and information available.

The class has been a resounding success and there's been a marked decline in the Internet Intimidation Factor, which can hover around technology. "This has a long time coming," says Reutlinger Community resident Sol Saperstein, who attended the first Internet class on March 7.

The course meets six to eight times. Fingerman covers the basic terminology and gadgetry of the medium and simple computer skills, and then leads residents through the Internet world of e-mail, Web sites, Instant Messaging, spam and viruses.

E-mail is a big draw for many residents, Fingerman explains, because many have family living far way. One resident wanted to communicate with his granddaughter, a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine. Another had lost touch with a relative in Argentina and Fingerman was able to track down a contact.

Judith Markowitz, Reutlinger's director of marketing and community life, understands the importance of this communication and believes that by staying in touch with friends and family, people can "feel more in contact with the world."

"Our residents really want to keep their minds active," she adds, and the different classes in the Learning for Life Series allow them to make choices in how to educate themselves. In a bigger context, Markowitz adds, the series is a wonderful resource for the greater Jewish community in the San Ramon Valley.

"The outside community can come in and benefit from these programs and also feel a connection to our elders."