12.20.13 Issue

by Ozzie Nogg

A recent issue of Psychology Today asked, “Can staying mentally active as we grow older help prevent cognitive and physical decline?” Though the jury is still out on this question, current research indicates that our brains maintain ‘plasticity’ as we age, brain development continues, and we ‘old dogs’ can learn new tricks. With that goal in mind, a new educational series — You’re Never Too Old To Learn — offers residents of the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home an exciting opportunity to maintain brain health and stay sharp as a tack. The program was the brainchild of Lois Wine, who recently retired as RBJH Director of Volunteer Services.

The first semester of classes began in October with Israeli Music, News and Culture led by Eliad Ben Shushan, Omaha’s Community Shaliach, or Israeli Emissary, at the Center for Jewish Life. “The curriculum was created to interest the Blumkin Home Residents as well as enable them to build upon their Jewish knowledge,” said Rabbi Yaakov Jeffrey Weiss, Blumkin Home Pastoral Services Coordinator. “The series is designed to empower and enrich the lives of Residents with various cognitive levels, and give Residents mental stimulation, which leads to a renewed sense of self-worth and accomplishment.”

You’re Never Too Old To Learn meets every Thursday afternoon for one hour. November featured The Wow of Judaism with Andy Greenberg. December sessions focused on Spirituality Here and Now! with Rabbi Mendel Katzman of Chabad. The Winter Semester begins in January when Hazzan Michael Krausman of Beth El Synagogue leads a class in Jewish Music. In February, Miriam Gross presents The History of Jewish Food, and Rabbi Josh Brown of Temple Israel facilitates the March sessions on Jewish Life Cycles. “The learning will culminate with a spring graduation ceremony and reception open to the community,” Rabbi Weiss said. “All Residents are welcome to join this education series, and even audit a class or two.”

Courses for You’re Never Too Old To Learn were developed jointly by The Center for Jewish Life, The Institute for Holocaust Education, The Nebraska Jewish Historical Society, Beth Israel Synagogue, Beth El Synagogue, Temple Israel and Chabad. The program is underwritten by a grant from the Shirley and Leonard Goldstein Supporting Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Omaha Foundation.

The World Health Organization would applaud the Blumkin Home’s You’re Never Too Old To Learn initiative. According to WHO, instead of ending education at a specific age, people are encouraged to continue learning throughout their lifetimes. Gerontological research shows that mental exercise — especially learning new things or pursuing activities that are unfamiliar and intellectually stimulating — may strengthen brain-cell networks, reduce cognitive decline and depression, and assist in perpetuating feelings of youth. “We want our Blumkin Home Residents to remain engaged, energized and mentally fit,” Rabbi Weiss said. “Research tells us that you’re never too old to improve the brain’s processing skills, and that real improvements in the quality of life are available to those who stay inquisitive and enthusiastic about learning new things.”