Modern Maccabees: Striving to Preserve Jewish Culture

Happy Chanukah to all who celebrate!

Chanukah is an especially meaningful holiday in regards to the Jewish Pavilion’s core mission. Although there is disagreement about many of the motivating details for the uprising in the Chanukah story among both traditional and contemporary Jewish scholars (which, of course, is very typically Jewish!), the main idea is that Maccabees long ago fought to restore a basic right to the Jewish people: the right to identify as Jews and practice their religion.

For those of you who have seen what we do up close, it should be easy to see how that relates to Jewish Pavilion’s mission.

Orlando doesn’t have a Jewish home for the aged, and so our Jewish seniors live in just about every senior living facility in town—some 70 in total—often as one of very few Jews or even the only one. It’s only natural that when planning meals, activities, holiday decorations, and religious observance, the facility staff make an effort to cater to the needs and expectations of the majority. And of course Christian cultural norms are the default. In my view, that’s completely understandable.

But that leaves their Jewish residents (and residents of other minority religions) left out. Of course, staff at some of the facilities would probably realize this without any intervention, but it would be unlikely to occur to most. And for those to whom it did occur, how would they know what was being left out and how to address it?

For example, imagine that one of your all-time favorite foods is latkes (not that hard to imagine, is it?). The very thought of those crispy, golden treats with their intoxicating aroma brings back warm memories stretching all the way back into your childhood. Now try to imagine living somewhere without a kitchen or without the ability to cook. You eat all your meals in a dining room, or at your bedside, and the menus are planned with the goal of catering to the tastes and expectations of most of the others in the community. And you are the only latke-lover in the building!

Enter the Jewish Pavilion, a strong advocate for Central Florida’s Jewish seniors.

Our program directors are in frequent contact with key staff at the facilities they serve and make sure they have a strong orientation to the cultural norms of their Jewish residents. They guide the staff in learning about traditional foods and holidays and keep them aware of the Jewish calendar. So on Chanukah, for example, menorah candles are lit at most senior communities around Orlando, and latkes may show up on dinner menus to be enjoyed by all.

Then there are the many Jewish Pavilion programs each month that keep Jewish residents connected to their culture and community. The programs are specially tailored to the characteristics of the individual communities, from memory care and skilled nursing to assisted and independent living buildings.

Take Savannah Court of Maitland, an assisted living and skilled nursing facility. Each Chanukah for a number of years, they get a special treat: young students from the nearby Jewish Academy of Orlando visit to present a Chanukah program with songs and story. It’s a visit that benefits both the children and the seniors, and it helps carry out the Jewish Pavilion’s central mission: connecting eldercare community residents and their families with a caring Jewish community that provides life-enhancing resources and experiences.

What’s not to love about this? Jewish children singing Chanukah songs and telling the story of the Maccabees to seniors—some who are Jewish and many who are not. It’s an annual tradition that helps preserve Jewish culture in that community.

I think if the Maccabees could be there to see it, they’d be proud.

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I did my first program of the year for the Jewish Pavilion. It has been a year. A whole year. Where has it gone? Many of us are starting to do things again for the first time in a year. We have missed

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