Elders enter digital age with virtual visit to Anne Frank House

Seniors at San Francisco’s Jewish Home and Menorah Park will be “visiting” the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam — and they’ll be making the trip without leaving home.

The trip is a virtual one, courtesy of a Lehrhaus Judaica class and a $20,000 grant from the Jewish Community Endowment Fund’s Maimonides Fund. Instructor Dan Fingerman, author of “Internet for the Typewriter Generation,” will read excerpts from the diary and talk with students about the historical background. He will also encourage students to talk about their own related experiences: during the war, or reading the diary or visiting the Frank house in Amsterdam.

“I always learn tons from the participants when I do these things,” said Fingerman, who has taught a number of computer classes to elders.

He’ll then turn on his laptop — connected to a large-screen projector — and walk the students through the house. Students can ask Fingerman to click on furniture, walls or personal effects for more information. The DVD-ROM tool uses the 1984 PBS series “Heritage: Civilization and the Jews” as a base, adding maps, articles biographies and photos about the people who lived, worked and hid in the house.

“It’s as though we were physically there and can explore as our whim, questions and interests dictate,” he said.

Fingerman, who has taught computers to various groups for 20 years, said students who never lay a finger on a keyboard gain something by learning through digital media.

“I think this is just one more device in a teacher’s bag of tricks for people who don’t learn by reading or listening to lectures,” he said. “They may learn by sort of being there and exploring on their own.”

The Anne Frank house tour is one of 10 interactive courses offered to Bay Area seniors by Lehrhaus, which has used the grant money to create classes tailored to the varying abilities of local seniors. While the Maimonides Fund helps finance classes in skilled-nursing and assisted-living facilities, including Rhoda Goldman Plaza in San Francisco, Lehrhaus also offers classes of interest to seniors throughout the Bay Area.

Mark Friedlander, director of resident programs at the Jewish Home, said residents in the skilled-nursing facility are thirsty for the kind of extended learning offered by Lehrhaus.

“What’s wonderful about Lehrhaus is the high quality,” he said.

Rather than water down the material, Lehrhaus adjusts its classes to meet the needs of residents, providing microphones to the instructor and amplifiers to residents with hearing loss, for example.

Lehrhaus also offers oversize print outlines or readings, and instructors thoroughly describe visual presentations for those who cannot see well.

These and class content modifications are based on 11 years of experience of teaching older adults, said Jehon Grist, Lehrhaus executive director. “We develop a personality for each site.”

Blossom Dror, program coordinator at Menorah Park in San Francisco, said she has worked with Lehrhaus to tailor the Frank class to the mostly Russian population of its federally subsidized independent-living facility.

“Many of my people won’t understand unless it’s in Russian,” Dror said. She found a Russian translator for the class and will pull the selected diary readings from a Russian version of the book.

The interactive portion of the class works well for residents, she said.

“You’re going to be going through the house and see what it was like for Anne Frank,” she said. “That’s an incredible appeal because it’s visual.”

Far from widening the gap between generations, digital technology can also link elderly Jewish people with stories to tell to their technology-savvy descendants with a thirst for family history.

“Discovering and Sharing Your Heritage: A Digital Classroom Genealogy Workshop” is also being offered to seniors at Jewish facilities.

“This is the essence of a digital classroom,” said Grist. “We can create curricula that provide benefits of 20th century technology without burdening older adults with technical skills they shouldn’t have to bother with.”

Phyllis Cook, executive director of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, said the program helps enrich the lives of seniors, which is in keeping with the goal of the Maimonides Fund: addressing unmet needs or filling existing gaps in the care of the Jewish elderly.

Students who take the genealogy workshop will create a 10-minute documentary about a key episode in their lives, using maps, photos or slides, audio interviews and home movies to create a CD-ROM.

“The idea is to make a vivid memory album,” Grist said. “Future generations can slap a CD into their computer and listen to their great grandparents talk about an event in their lives. They’ll keep memory alive.”

Visiting the Anne Frank House” continues from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays Feb. 10 and 24, at Menorah Park, 3365 Sacramento St., S.F., and from 4 to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays Feb. 10 and 24 at the Jewish Home, 302 Silver Ave., S.F. Free to residents, $15 ages 65 and older, $25 others.

The course is also offered at Claremont House, 4500 Gilbert St., Oakland, with funding from the Jewish Community Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay. Classes are 3 to 4:15 p.m. Fridays, Feb. 6 to 20. Free to residents, $15 ages 65 and older, $30 others.

A two-session Anne Frank course will be held from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays, March 10 and 24, at the Berkeley Richmond JCC, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. $15, or free to BRJCC senior lunch program and Café Europa participants.

The genealogy workshop is also offered at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St., from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Mondays, Feb. 9 to March 22 (no class Feb. 16). $45 seniors, $55 members, $65 others. It will be offered at a later date at Rhoda Goldman Plaza in San Francisco. Information: www.lehrhaus.org or (510) 845-6420.