When I first came to TAPP over three years ago, I had the fortune of crossing paths with Jaye Bittner, then the coordinator of SMART (Science, Math and the Right Technology), during her last year before retirement. At Jaye’s retirement, I met her Aunt Annette who told me she had worked at the Jewish Community Center for 65 years.
Her conversation with me prompted a memory of a positive experience I had with JCC. In the mid-1990’s as a recent single mother raising two children on my own, someone at JCC arranged for a summer pass for my children and me to have access to their community pool.
That summer, my two and five year olds became good swimmers and we made it pleasantly through the summer months enjoying the pool with their community, including our mayor and his family.
It turns out that Annette Sagerman was that person. Tears came to my eyes as I was able to thank the woman who had given such a supportive gift to me at such a vulnerable time in my life.
So, when I began to search for the women elders who would share their stories with our students this past fall I thought of Annette Sagerman. When Jaye advised me that Annette was not able to participate, I called the JCC and spoke with Slava Nelson, a Jewish woman from Kiev, and the wheels were set in motion for our guest speaker, Rosita Kaplin, a woman of Russian parents who was born in Cuba and came here as a teenager to be our speaker for the Oral History Quilt and Theatre Project.
This experience proved mutually exciting for all parties and it was during that participation here at TAPP that Slava began to envision a permanent art studio at JCC. When I arrived on the campus to speak to the elders who gather there for lunch, Slava proudly showed me their new permanent art studio at the JCC.
Another unexpected pleasure from my visit with the elders at JCC was meeting the wife of the late Ernie Marx, who was a survivor of the Holocaust and educational advocate who took many teachers and students on day visits to Washington, D.C. to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I often think back to that life altering experience and to Ernie who, with a patient and kind heart,
Ernie’s commitment to telling the story and his presence with those of us going through that experience were profound and absolutely the best professional development I have ever done. I shared his story with me and so many others. It was a tremendous honor to meet his wife Thelma and speak to her over lunch.
Now in telling this, I realize I had an earlier encounter with JCC. When I gave birth to my second child, I planned for a homebirth and we prepared for that special day. My neighbor friend, Ruth Farrell (the mother of the now famous professional soccer player, Andrew Farrell), was teaching English to immigrants who had newly arrived at the Jewish Community Center.
The day I went into labor, Ruth had only one student, so she brought her elderly Russian woman student along with her to my home for the home birth, truly a cultural educational experience.
A few weeks later, I realized this Russian woman was, for all practical purposes, my daughter’s spiritual grandmother. After my daughter was born, I entered Ruth’s house with my bundle, and that Jewish grandmother embraced me with great excitement, and held my daughter for hours, as if my child was her very own granddaughter.