Group of Israeli teens outside Ovation Jewish Home sign
Makif Tet High School and Teen Ovation members gather outside Ovation Jewish Home (Image courtesy of Ovation Communities)

A Milwaukee senior living and care provider recently hosted a group of Israeli teenagers as part of a first-of-its-kind intergenerational exchange program, to “plant seeds of tolerance and understanding between people of all ages and cultures.”

Jewish faith-based Ovation Communities developed the exchange program through its Teen Ovation volunteer board. The group was formed last year to help bridge the generation gap.

Seeds of the exchange

During the pandemic, Teen Ovation connected with Makif Tet High School in Israel, which also had a group of students who engaged and interacted with older adults. The two teen groups began conversations via Zoom, and this dialogue eventually led to the exchange program.

“Programming and activities have included trivia games through Zoom, an on-site game of 20 questions so the teen volunteers and residents could get to know each other better, as well as an onsite paint-and-sip event, where everyone participate in painting canvases and enjoyed hot chocolate, cider and lots of treats,” Tanya Mazor-Posner, Ovation vice president of development, told McKnight’s Senior Living.

Teens arranging items on food pantry shelves
Makif Tet High School students from Israel help Teen Ovation members stock the Despensa de la Paz Food Pantry (Image courtesy of Ovation Communities)

After much discussion and planning, the Israeli teenagers made the journey to Wisconsin to participate in a wide variety of activities that allowed them to immerse themselves in the Milwaukee community and American culture. It also gave Teen Ovation members and residents a taste of Israel.

Throughout the week that the Israeli teens visited Milwaukee, the group set up new equipment at the Despensa de la Paz Food Pantry; visited Friendship Café, which is staffed by special needs employees; listened to Ovation resident Julius Garber recall his time as a Jewish World War II veteran captured by the Nazis; presented on Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass,” at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee; and watched “Rise,” a movie about Milwaukee Bucks professional basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

The Israeli teenagers also interacted with Ovation Jewish Home and Ovation Chai Point residents, shadowed American students at a local high school, shopped at local malls and took in an NBA game.

Healthy for all ages

Mazor-Posner said the Teen Ovation program has been positive for both the students and residents. The Teen Ovation program was honored with the Jewish Programming Award from Association of Jewish Aging Services in April as the first teen board of a senior living community.

The students come from different schools, backgrounds and experiences, Mazor-Posner said. Kids aged 13 to 19 from all faiths and backgrounds are eligible to apply for Teen Ovation. In addition to building friendships, the group is designed to help teenagers learn communication and leadership skills while participating in fundraising activities and sensitivity training in volunteering with older adults.

“Several of them have formed meaningful relationships that have led to resident participation in a teen volunteer’s bar mitzvah,” Mazor-Posner said. “All of the teen volunteers are confident and able to engage with residents in spirited and meaningful conversations.”