“Everyone should have the opportunity to be with people of different generations. There is a lot we can all learn from each other.” – Jacob, grade 4 student at The Rashi School
Jacob is a Rashi Mitzvah Maker, one of a group of students in grades 2-6 who voluntarily spend an hour each month visiting with residents at NewBridge on the Charles, the senior community with which Rashi shares a campus in Dedham. Mitzvah Makers is part of ongoing multigenerational activities at Rashi, which include Middle School memory support and gardening electives that bring students and seniors together, and family activities that unite the Rashi and NewBridge communities.
Mitzvah Makers embodies many of the core values of Rashi, New England’s only Reform Jewish independent school. Rebecca Friedman, a parent new to Rashi this year whose son is a Mitzvah Maker, explains: “When looking at the Rashi experience, think of a triangle. There is the education part which is differentiated and meaningful, there is the Jewish component which is substantive and spirited, and then there is the social justice program which is teaching the children the importance of thinking outside of themselves on how to make the world a better place – one mitzvah at a time! I feel very fortunate to have my children in a school that takes ‘mensch-making’ as serious as I do.”
Children are empowered to shape their Mitzvah Maker experience. At monthly lunch meetings, they discuss what they have learned from their last visit and plan the next one. In December, the children decided that for their Chanukah visit, the activities would include singing songs, playing dreidl, and engaging in a getting to know you scavenger hunt. Although the visit is structured, there is also room for spontaneous activities, such as serenading a NewBridge resident on the occasion of her 101st birthday.
“The Mitzvah Makers program brings an enormous amount energy and joy to our residents,” says Julie Wade, Life Enhancement Leader of the NewBridge Health Care Center. “The positive emotion and power that fills the room leaves everyone involved filled with a sense of pride, giving, love and appreciation for one another.
“Our residents eagerly await the students’ arrival,” Wade notes. “Residents who are usually less involved in activities come to this program to smile, laugh and celebrate with the students. One resident, who never leaves her household, became actively involved when the students were searching for ‘the number one Red Sox fan’.” She jumped out of her seat to say that she was, and that she never missed a game. She was smiling and laughing the whole time and since then she attends just about every program offered and has a whole new zest for living a meaningful and engaged life. It really opened the door for her to connect with others and make friendships.”
“The Rashi students demonstrate remarkable respect, curiosity and commitment to meeting the residents and having them fully participate. They overlook their illness and physical impairments and accept the residents for who they are,” Wade added.
Rashi staff agree. “Participating in Mitzvah Makers helps children to develop sensitivity, patience, respect and compassion for older and infirm individuals,” says Rashi Learning Specialist Marlene Moyer. “They also discover how much fun it is to bring joy to other people! Being part of Mitzvah Makers is truly a chance for Rashi students to live the Torah values that they study in our school.”