Rhoda Morris keeps Chabad on her calendar. The resident of Tempe, Ariz., started attending events through the “Smile on Seniors” program, which operates out of Chabad Lubavitch of Arizona in Phoenix, about two years ago. She says she loves the camaraderie she has found there and tries to get to as many of the group’s functions as she can—lunch meetings, dinners, movie nights, Super Bowl parties ...

She went in not knowing anyone, but has made friends that she now regularly sits with at events, and also keeps up with by email and on the telephone. “And if I have a question, the rabbi is always there to answer it for me,” she says.

It’s not like the mahjong games she plays during the week or the discussion group she leads, notes Morris. “It’s a different aspect of my life; it’s a chance for me to connect with my Jewish roots, and that means a lot to me.”


She adds that she appreciates it being more than a social meeting. “It’s a religious thing that’s close to my heart. It’s just a nice, heartwarming feeling.”

Rabbi Levi Levertov, who co-directs Chabad of Downtown in Phoenix with his wife, Chani, says like the initiative in New Jersey that it’s modeled after, the program is aimed at offering a sense of community to older Jews who might otherwise not be connected. “The main goal is to provide a Jewish outlet to socialize, to celebrate, to study Judaism,” he explains. “And then, of course, a sense of caring.”

Through “Smile on Seniors,” the elderly receive home visits from volunteers, and the chance to participate, when possible, in programs not just in, but also outside of where they live. With volunteer help, the group organizes monthly Shabbat dinners, the largest of which drew 270 seniors. Volunteer visit efforts reach some 30 retirement communities, says Levertov. They run Chanukah and Purim parties, organize mahjong games and coordinate lively discussions, in addition to connecting seniors with technology tutors and providing help with rehabilitation. “We’re always growing,” Levertov says of their offerings. “We hear ideas, we act.”

Rhoda Morris, center, and others light Shabbat candles at “Smile on Seniors” event.
Rhoda Morris, center, and others light Shabbat candles at “Smile on Seniors” event.

Marking Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month

“Smile on Seniors” also recently facilitated a 10-week series ahead of Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month (June), in partnership with Phoenix-based nonprofit Duet: Partners in Health & Aging.

The series aimed to help those closest to people with Alzheimer’s, for example. “We work with many seniors of different ages and stages,” says the rabbi. “We wanted to be able to provide some sort of support for families and family caregivers.”

Nancy Mendelsohn, who lives in Phoenix, volunteers with the program. She got involved a handful of years ago, taking part in one-on-one visits and now helping prepare for the monthly Shabbat dinners as well. “There’s just such a warmth and connection between everyone who’s there ... it’s a beautiful thing,” she says of the monthly meals.

She currently also visits residents with her two therapy dogs and helps get mahjong games together. “What I like best about being involved is just seeing the difference we make in people’s lives—it just brings the community together,” says Mendelsohn. There’s also common ground among the volunteers, who across the board are committed to enhancing the senior community, she says.

Ben Glazer, who lives in Phoenix, brings his 98-year-old mother, Hannah, center, to the activities.
Ben Glazer, who lives in Phoenix, brings his 98-year-old mother, Hannah, center, to the activities.

Phoenix resident Ben Glazer brings his 98-year-old mother, Hannah, to the events. “It’s really a wonderful series of events for the elder people. I’m 67, and there are a lot of people around that age, too,” he says.

Participants hail from a range of geographies and across the Jewish spectrum, he adds, and get to share their stories. “We’ve been going for the past few years now—she looks forward to it greatly,” he says, adding that his mother has made friends there and enjoys getting the chance to “schmooze.” Meanwhile, he can go and enjoy the food, lectures and company as well. “I’ve never heard of anything like it. I wish there were more programs like this.”