At 97, Louise Silberman of Monroe Township still drives, FaceTimes with her great-granddaughter in California, has a theater subscription, plays canasta several times each week, and enjoys going to baseball games, especially if the Mets are playing. This vivacious “Nana” has plenty of insights to share about aging.
“The secret to an older life is how you feel, how you carry yourself,” she told NJJN in a telephone conversation. “Don’t let age get to you — it’s only a number.”
Silberman’s granddaughter, Stacy Horne of San Francisco, videotaped her grandmother offering advice as part of a new initiative called “The Last Act.” Despite the unfortunate title, you could call “The Last Act” a 21st-century version of Pirkei Avot. In place of snappy teachings for any phase of life, like “Who is rich? The one who is happy with what he has,” the insight from “The Last Act” focuses on aging. It comes in a series of short, professionally produced two- to three-minute videos viewable on lastactseries.com.
Silberman’s clip is part of the do-it-yourself section of the initiative, which encourages anyone inspired by “The Last Act” to interview their elder heroes. Her video can be found on “The Last Act” Facebook page.
Launched this month through Reboot, an organization headquartered in New York that seeks to create tools to explore contemporary life through a Jewish lens, it was created by Tiffany Woolf, a public relations executive, and documentary filmmaker Steve Goldbloom; both are California residents.
The goal of the series is to share wisdom on aging wisely and give people a voice who often feel “invisible” and “irrelevant,” according to Woolf.
“We’re all living longer, and this is about living better,” she said.
As the Baby Boom generation reaches retirement age, they are looking for resources and opportunities on aging so they can take full advantage of the years ahead, according to Susan Schechter, director of older adult services at Jewish Family Service of Metro-West. “I think everyone can benefit from seeing these stories,” she said, adding that seniors are not “a throw-away generation,” but rather have “tremendous wisdom” to offer. What she noticed in particular is the positive attitude of those who are featured in “The Last Act.”
“People sometimes lose sight of how to hold onto their optimism,” she said.
In her video, Silberman says she doesn’t feel 97, and she loves it when people guess her age as 75. If she bristles at how people sometimes treat her with “the courtesy they think you need,” it’s because she takes pride in her independence. “I can do most everything,” she says in the clip. She calls herself in “the age of the cane” because her children insist on it as insurance against falling, which she admits has happened. And she believes she’s earned a few things. “At the age I am I think it’s time to be a little lazy.” The biggest piece of wisdom she offers to viewers? “I think the secret is having a happy life,” she says. “I think that makes a big difference.”
The main part of the project features six videos — three couples, a 90-year-old widow, and two celebrities, Marion Ross and Norman Lear. All live in the Los Angeles area and were hand-picked by Woolf and Goldbloom.
Marion Ross advises holding onto your inner child. “That child inside — that’s the life force,” she says.
Norman Lear discusses his children, the game of life, and coffee. “Every single night, one of the last thoughts at night, if not the last thought, is the taste of coffee. I love coffee.”
Others speak about topics ranging from love and spirituality to what gets them up in the morning. While not overtly Jewish, there’s a Jewish flavor to the project, a trademark of Reboot initiatives.
For instance, Phyllis Shlecter, the widow, reveals, “I called myself a Rosh HaShanah Jew until I was 80.” That’s the age she decided to learn Hebrew and enrolled in a class. It inspired a love for Judaism and two years later, at the age of 82, she celebrated her bat mitzvah in Israel.
While these videos will help a younger generation “see the inspirational side of aging,” said JFS’s Schechter, what’s absent from “The Last Act” is practical advice on coping with loss and navigating medical care, for example.
“I’d like to see videos of people who have challenges and try to face them and still try to maintain their independence,” she said. “If someone loses their sight, how do they adjust for that? How do they continue to do what they love despite losing their vision? Getting older is also about loss. How do you deal with that and still maintain your optimism and dignity?”
The project was inspired by Woolf’s desire to find role models for aging because her parents both died in their 60s while Woolf was in college. Now 47, she has found that such role models are more ubiquitous than she had once expected. “Everyone always has someone over 80 to talk about,” said Woolf. “It’s the aunt who went to Israel to have a bat mitzvah or the uncle who discovered tantric sex in his 80s.”
Except for the celebrities, the video participants are part of Chai Village, a multi-synagogue, multi-generational effort in Los Angeles to enable people to age in place. Some examples of services provided include rides to medical appointments and social opportunities, like book clubs and day trips. Chai Village was created by Jewish aging expert Rabbi Laura Geller, now in her late 60s, of Temple Emanuel in Los Angeles, who serves as an adviser for “The Last Act.” She will soon star in her own video on how she was inspired to explore what it means to age wisely.
Woolf’s long-term vision for “The Last Act” includes creating videos of people in communities around the country, taking some of the subjects of the videos on national speaking tours to synagogues and Jewish federations, and establishing spaces in nursing homes that would serve as studios where teens and young adults could interview residents.
In the meantime, she’s encouraging individuals to record stories of seniors they know. The do-it-yourself toolkit, available on lastactseries.com, provides how-to tips, suggested questions, and instructions for uploading the interview to “The Last Act” website to become part of the collection. Mostly, though, do-it-yourselfers are expected to upload the videos to their own social media sites tagging “The Last Act,” and the project will select several each month to feature.
For Stacy Horne, interviewing her “Nana” was a no-brainer once she learned about the project. “She’s an example of someone aging gracefully and beautifully, and she always has sage advice,” said Horne.