November saw the official opening of a brand-new program designed to meet the needs of the large population of elderly Russian-speaking immigrants (olim) in the neighborhood of the Akko Educators’ Kibbutz. In the framework of the program, a group of forty Russian-speaking retirees meet in the community center at the Educators’ Kibbutz building every week for social Hebrew learning and interest groups.
“Our approach is no different from if we were working with younger adults, teens or children. All people, regardless of how old they are, want to and are capable of learning – and most important of all, they love having fun!” said Svetlana, a member of the Lionesses of Akko who heard about the program and wanted to get involved.
Participants meet two mornings a week at the Educators’ Kibbutz community center. Their time is split between Hebrew lessons, activities including Pilates and community gardening, “coffee club time”, and guest lectures on subjects of interest to them.
“The idea for this program actually arose two years ago when we were getting ready to move into the new permanent home for the kibbutz,” said Michal Keidar the Akko Educators’ Kibbutz member responsible for the project. “We met with our partners from the Municipality’s Welfare Department to understand what the unique needs of the neighborhood we were moving into were. We understood that there was a significant population of elderly Russian-speaking olim who face the duel challenges of being senior citizens and new immigrants, which can compound their hardships,” Michal added.
“We set out to develop a program that would respond to all of these needs. We are talking about a rich social framework that provides a fun and safe environment for the participants to practice their language skills and engage in physical activities suitable for their stage in life. The message of the programming is: ‘You are an important part of the neighborhood and of Israel. You have a lot of life left to give, let’s be friends and learn together.’”
Some of the participants have been in Israel for several decades but have been unable to acquire the necessary Hebrew skills to fully adapt and integrate into Israel. For many, this leaves them on the margins, unable to participate actively in civil and social affairs in the city. The Akko Educators’ Kibbutz works towards making Akko a city where all residents, regardless of their age, gender, culture, religion or ethnic background have the right and ability to participate in shaping the future of the city they share.