Melton plays intergenerational matchmaker
By Deborah Moon Seldner
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Using seeds planted by a Community Initiative Grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, the Melton Adult Mini-School created a shiduch (match) between Melton, Rose Schnitzer Manor, Portland Jewish Academy High School and the Oregon Jewish Museum.
Last year's CIG grant has enabled six residents from Rose Schnitzer Manor to attend Portland's Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, an intensive, two-year program to Jewish literacy. Originally envisioned as an enrichment opportunity for the seniors and their classmates, others are now joining in reaping the rewards.
Through connections made at the mini-school, a project evolved for PJA High students to interview the seniors and create oral histories and narratives for the archives of the Oregon Jewish Museum. Additionally, some parents in Melton's Parent Education Program have forged ties with the RSM participants.
"What was originally a CIG to create a bridge between Melton and Rose Schnitzer Manor has grown into a multi-generational activity that will result in preserving and archiving the experience of our Jewish elders and creating a relationship between our elderly, parents of our young children and our teenagers," said Bonnie Goldberg, Melton director.
"At its core, this is part of what we hope and expect will come out of Melton--a coming together of the whole spectrum of Jewish community to learn and take experiences back into our community," she added.
Debbi Barany, who teaches at both Melton and PJA High, said her PJA students researched timelines and historical background before interviewing seniors about historic events that they lived through. Some students focused on life during the Depression, one pair questioned a senior about anti-Semitism in the pre-civil-rights South.
"To have long intergenerational conversations has been a very powerful, rich experience for the students," said Barany.
In addition to transcribing the interviews for the OJM archives, PJA students also read Stud Terkel's "Hard Times" to learn how to create cohesive narratives. The OJM archives will include the taped interview, a complete transcript of the interview, a Turkelesque-style narrative, and a photo of the RSM senior and the PJA students who did the interview.
PJA student Jessa Riannelli said the seniors are "your living link to history."
"They provided us with an alternative view of history," said Riannelli. "A person who grew up in the South gave us this whole different world. She didn't experience the anti-Semitism in the South. The history books make out that everyone went through terrible trials."
PJA student Una Odomel-King said that interviewing someone who lived through the Depression was interesting. After researching the Depression, Odomel-King said it was very interesting to hear how it affected someone's life.
OJM Director Judy Margles said that oral history is a very important way to preserve the past. She said that for the students the project was important because it introduced them to using oral history as a primary source.
"Talking to people who lived through it is what gives history its dynamism," said Margles.
From the museum's perspective, she said the project was important because "any history that can be added to our archive is great for us."
All of the seniors interviewed said that the PJA students were well prepared for the interviews. Not surprising since Melton teacher Sylvia Frankel, who was also the founding director of the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center, gave the students a workshop on collecting oral history and Barany did pre-interviews to help the students focus their interviews.
RSM resident Arnold Hopfer was born in Germany and spent time interred at Dachau before emigrating through England to the United States in 1940. A year later, he was in the U.S. Army.
"They asked about my experiences," said Hopfer. "I think it's helpful to know how people lived."
RSM resident Jack Straus said he felt it was a tremendous project to be involved in, but he added he hopes the PJA students are inspired to ask their grandparents the same type of questions. He said he regrets he never asked his grandmother about her parents' lives in pre-state Oregon.
Harold Nadler said he believes he and the other seniors provided a human perspective for the students.
Two parents in Melton's PEP program for parents of preschoolers said they switched classes so they could share the wisdom and life experience of the older generation. Beverly Schwartz and Scott Snyder said they originally attended a morning class with the seniors because they wanted to watch the election results that evening. Both said they were so impressed with the experience and intelligent conversation of the seniors that they decided to switch classes permanently.
"We learn so much from each other," said Snyder. "The older folks come from a different perspective. It's invigorating. They are good role models on how to stay active and keep learning."