Jewish Senior Connection adds in-person schmoozing during its second year


 Betsy Enger leads a cooking demonstration during a Jewish Senior Connection program in April.  Photo: Bill Motchan

BILL MOTCHAN, Special to the Jewish Light

A few days before Passover, a half dozen people gathered to learn an important skill: how to make stuffed dates and other delicious holiday dishes. It was one of the first meetings of Jewish Senior Connection, now back for a second year.

April 2021, the social gathering program for Jewish seniors was launched by Congregation B’nai Amoona, Traditional Congregation and Kol Rinah. The 2022 version will have a few modifications, but the goal remains to connect people in a setting conducive to schmoozing.

That was more challenging when COVID inhibited in-person gatherings. Zoom meetings were a useful alternative, but virtual coffee klatches aren’t quite the same as playing mah-jongg with friends on an actual table. Emerging from a pandemic cocoon is just one advantage of the revamped program, according to its coordinator, Marcia Mermelstein from B’nai Amoona.

“Outreach and communication were challenging,” Mermelstein said of the initial effort.

She said because the ages of the group ranged from seniors in their late 70s to early 80s, some weren’t comfortable using email and online registration tools. Mermelstein and her team looked at ways to generate more participation and offer a welcome opportunity for Jewish seniors to hang out together. They decided to eliminate a formal registration and payment requirement and let people attend in a casual and welcome setting. The recently remodeled B’nai Amoona building made the perfect spot to host the weekly gatherings.

“There’s a new space in the entryway, a bright open atrium with groupings of chairs and tables and high-top tables like you see in a coffee shop,” Mermelstein said. “You could probably have 50 or more people sitting in the atrium area chatting. There’s another space in the community room down the hall, with couches, chairs and tables, where 25 or 30 people can sit and have coffee.”

This month, the new, improved Jewish Senior Connection kicks off on Tuesday afternoons at B’nai Amoona, funded as it was last year by a JCA Charitable Foundation grant. The weekly gathering offers more regularity than the 2021 version, which met once a month.

Mermelstein anticipates the format will be attractive to seniors who are eager to resume social in-person gatherings after more than two years of sheltering. The use of the B’nai Amoona facilities takes advantage of a concept known as a “third space.” This is a sociocultural term that describes a communal space, separate from home (first space) or work (second space).

That space can be used for visitors to sit and chat or if they like, use the communal space for crocheting, knitting or other crafts. Tables can be reserved to play mah-jongg or other board games by contacting Mermelstein in advance.

Each week, participants can enjoy coffee and kosher snacks. The program will also host films, cooking demonstrations and other features.

Upcoming schedule

Tuesday, May 10 

Linda Koenig will offer a verbal tour of Jewish St. Louis.

Tuesday, June 23

Rabbi Neal Rose from B’nai Amoona will offer a conversation entitled “You Can Only Say It In Yiddish!”

Learn more 

The Jewish Senior Connection program is open to any member of the St. Louis Jewish community. While there is no registration required, Jewish Senior Connection’s planners ask that attendees RSVP to Marcia Mermelstein at 314-576-9990, ext. 139 or by email at [email protected]