Coronavirus Couldn't Stop This Pre-Purim Joy

School finds a creative way to bring kids and seniors together, despite virus fears


Coronavirus Couldn't Stop This Pre-Purim Joy

by Ashira Weiss

March 8, 2020

On Wednesday, with a little help from technology, a coronavirus-related setback was averted for a group of seniors and children. 

The lower elementary classes of Maimonides Jewish Day School in Portland, run by Chabad of Oregon, planned to visit the residents of Cedar Sinai Park, a senior living and care center. As part of the school’s efforts to promote inclusion, the kindergarten, first- and second-graders visit the seniors before the Jewish holidays to present a musical performance. “We feel that while the academic growth of our students is key, perhaps more important is their social-emotional development. Their ability to connect with seniors helps them to learn more about themselves and about what they can do for the world,” said Rabbi Shneur Wilhelm, principal at Maimonides.

The children had practiced their Purim songs and were looking forward to performing at the assisted living and rehab facilities at Cedar Sinai Park. With coronavirus precautions on everyone’s mind, Rabbi Wilhelm reached out to the school’s medical advisor to ascertain whether it would still be appropriate for the little ones to make this trip. Dr. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, a member of the Oregon Senate advised against the visit “out of precaution for the seniors.”

Meanwhile, at Cedar Sinai Park, spiritual life coordinator Cathy Zheutlin was anticipating the children’s visit. “Their performance is always delightful. They bring joy and smiles and enrich the lives of our residents,” she told Lubavitch.com.

When she heard the school was going to cancel the visit, she knew her residents would be disappointed. “We tried to find a way that the children could still come without there being any contact between them and the seniors,” Cathy said.

Tim Wallis, a Maimonide parent heard about the quandary and suggested that they hold the performance over Skype. Cathy set up a teleconferencing screen at the Rose Schnitzer Manor at Cedar Sinai Park and, at Maimonides, and seventeen kids lined up in front of a computer. The children sang their Purim hits with gusto and energy that came through on the big screen in the lounge at Rose Schnitzer Manor. “I’m so happy our kids were able to spread love through their songs and smiles, while keeping everyone safe,” said Tim.

First grade student Moti Dolgin described the performance as “great. I love going to Rose Schnitzer Manor. I love making presentations. The video was fun, and we could share about the Purim holiday, even though we couldn't go.”

“Our students were so happy to perform and sang with passion and joy,” said Maimonides classroom assistant, Lucie Sorel. “It was incredible that we were able to use technology as a tool of personal connection with our community. In challenging times, it is important to unite and support one another, despite the distance between us.”

Rabbi Wilhelm saw the experience as “a teachable moment for our children to understand that when we want to connect with and bring joy to others, we can’t let anything stop us.”

The effect of the virtual visit was perhaps summed up in the words one resident who added a note to a thank you card they all signed and sent to the children: “Thank you for bringing joy into my life.”

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