Lessons From An ‘Old Lady’

Today’s participant blog post comes from Natasha Shaw, a current participant in the Yahel Social Change Program. Natasha’s group is living, learning and volunteering in Lod, Israel for 9 months this year. 

‘Old Person’ is not an OK way to refer to elderly people in English. The Dor Ledor (from generation to generation) organisation refers to elderly people in exactly these terms, bantering ‘זקן’ – old person, around like it’s nobody’s business. As the Talmudic use of ‘זקןexplains that ‘old person’ ‘sage’ and ‘wise’ share the same meaning, Dor Ledor believes that ‘old person’ should be reclaimed along with pride in old age and the scope for learning and enrichment that it provides.

By pairing young and old participants through their Dorot (generations) programme, Dor Ledor hopes to alleviate the social alienation of old people and establish relationships of value between generations.

My ‘old lady’ is Hana Isaacs and through visiting her once a week with my housemate Sofy I’ve learned many things.

First off, Hana is an amazing storyteller. Hana was born in India, where she studied in English and moved to Israel in the 1960s. This old lady paints the picture of her life in the style of magic and fairytale: each anecdote is delivered with a twinkling eye and warm smile and in true fairytale style there’s often excitement, bravery and a moral at the end.

It’s clear for Sofy and I that Hana loves her tales and she’s not afraid to take the floor. Her stories are exciting and full of travel and wonder at the world. As young women who are often told not to take up too much space in a patriarchal society it’s truly inspiring to hear stories of a strong and independent old woman’s rich life and to witness Hana’s pride in telling her listeners all about it. Hana is a fantastic story teller: she is bold and she is kind but most importantly for me she is unafraid of her own voice and the power she gains in sharing it.

There are some things that Hana really wants us to understand about her stories. Hana frequently tell us that she would never make an assumption about a person or place without first seeing with her own eyes and listening with her own ears. Hana’s passion for really seeing and really listening is what drives her to go and travel to faraway places in her tales and to explore as much as possible. Though in her stories she’s seen it all, the message always stays the same: you don’t know what you’re going to see until you get there so don’t depend on someone else’s opinion. I really love this piece of advice from Hana as I think it’s tempting for us to think, as the internet shrinks the world, that we’ve got all the answers but Hana has taught me that the most important way to learn is through lived experience.

Usually around Teatime Hana will round off a tale and remind us: ‘You see, if you have only good things in your heart and no hate, things will work out for you.’ At first, I’ll admit, I saw this faith in the unknown as a bit superstitious, but in getting to know Hana and her style better, I’ve come to see things quite differently. Hana’s stories have shown me that holding on to good things and discarding hate is important because in the end your strength of character will see you through. Hana’s warm and inquisitive attitude to life and her wonderful stories are testament to the idea that an open heart is best placed to face the world and enjoy it for all that It has to offer.

I value my placement with Hana as I’m able to provide service where Yahel’s partners need it, I feel a part of the city and the social initiatives here and I’ve learned about the impact that an organisation like Dor Ledor can have through pooling the collective energy of volunteers. A quarter of Israel’s elderly people are living in social isolation but through Dor Ledor, where each participant volunteers at least once a week, the organisation is able to work across 15 different cities and greatly impact on the lives of its participants.

Most of all I like to visit with Hana because her stories encourage me to think in new and different ways: to approach my goals with confidence, refer to lived experience and keep an open heart. When it comes to community organising, I think these qualities will serve us quite nicely.

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