Through the Wise Aging program, participants explore the joys, possibilities and challenges of growing older in small classes that last between six to nine weeks. These classes cover a broad spectrum of aging issues, such as difficulty losing a spouse, first-time grandparenting, dealing with aging parents, and redefining life after a lifetime of working.
Wise Aging was created in 2014 through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. The early programs were held in synagogues and community centers around the United States, under the guidance of trained and knowledgeable facilitators who began leading peer groups.
These classes utilize the book, Wise Aging, Living with Joy, Resilience, and Spirit, by Rabbi Rachel Cowan and Dr. Linda Thal that provides practical and real-world suggestions for becoming stronger and more resilient as you age.
“Before COVID-19, we were all in person, and due to COVID-19, it has turned into a national program. Everywhere people are Zooming us and want to attend,” says Linda Levin M.A., director of Wise Aging Center at the Bureau Of Jewish Education in Phoenix. “We’ve expanded; that’s the one good thing. But I miss the physical interactions, the body language of sitting with a group of amazing people and talking about various topics.”
Linda was trained under Dr. Linda Thal when Wise Aging began in the Valley four years ago. Since then, Linda has trained numerous individuals – doctors, psychologists, therapists and business people – to become facilitators.
“The people that are wanting to be a part of this are some of the most highly intelligent, interesting people who are also open-minded to the journey of aging in a positive manner versus a negative manner with despair and worry,” says Linda.
Linda says that she’s even trained her husband, Ken, to be a facilitator.
“We’ve had a lot of women attend, but we wanted to open the door to men, and we thought maybe men would be more comfortable talking to other men,” she says. “It’s hard for them to speak about loss, death and relationships. When they speak to each other, it’s often about business or sports, not about what they’re going through as they’re aging because it’s hard for them to show vulnerabilities. After I trained my husband, he said, ‘I’m doing this.’”
As with their classes, their annual gala will also be on Zoom this year.
This year’s “Celebrate the Art of Aging” event will be held on April 25 from 10 am to 11:30 pm. The event will highlight information about adopting positive attitudes believed to guide aging with vibrancy and vitality.
The keynote speaker for the event will be Ashton Applewhite. She is an anti-ageism activist, TED mainstage speaker and an author. She wrote This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, a book that debunks the countless harmful myths and stereotypes about aging, and she is also the voice of the “Yo, Is This Ageist?” blog.
“She is considered one of the leading experts in ageism,” says Linda. “She’s brilliant, and we are so excited to have her as our keynote speaker. She asks the question, ‘What if discrimination on the basis of age were as unacceptable as any other kind of prejudice,’ that’s a powerful statement.”
Linda credits Nancy Pollinger, board member and facilitator, with discovering Ashton and booking her to appear.
“She worked on that, and I credit her completely for that,” says Linda. “As a committee, we all thought, if we’re going to get people to sign up from all over the nation, we’ve got to get somebody who’s a force and knowledgeable and an author and speaker, who is interesting to listen to.”
The event is also being dedicated to the memory of Joan Sitver, z”l. She was an integral part of the BJE’s Wise Aging program, both as a participant and planning the 2020 Wise Aging Celebration.
After teaching for more than 30 years, Joan lived with joy, resilience and spirit. The third chapter of her life was filled with family, music, books, Jewish learning and enhancing Jewish life.
She was a real example of a model Wise Ager.
For more information on the Celebrate The Art of Aging event, visit bjephoenix.org/theartofaging.