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Hebrew High Outreach Program Connects Teens and Handmaker Residents

by Nanci Levy | May 18, 2016
Natalie and Anna

This is an essay written by Natalie Leonard, a Tucson Hebrew High Student who participated in the Tracing Roots inter-generational program at Handmaker this past year.

Anna has no legs. Her birthday is September 25th, a day and 79 years before mine. I visit her every month.

My participation in Tracing Roots Planting Trees was forged by a few well-placed guilt trips and marketed as a worthwhile college-resume filler. My Hebrew High School Principal, Sharon received a grant to create a partnership program, that would culminate in a documentary and art installation. So I reluctantly dragged myself into the "Old People's Home", expecting slimy spinach and boring board games.

Anna tells me the same story each time: "I was in the Navy and I helped invent  syn-the-tic ru-bber during WWII", carefully articulating the words she remembers to make up for the words she forgets. Every month, I transcribe more of her story, show her the Google street-view of her childhood apartment, and draw her family tree. She struggles to remember the names of her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents but her face lights up with each sibling she recalls. We eat lunch; the spinach tastes better than I thought. After diving into her past, she wheels herself back to her room, refusing my assistance, and offers me a cookie from one of her jars.

I realize that Handmaker is filled with people who were 17 once, not long ago, and that my being there beckons Anna back to her college days. For fleeting moments, I am there with her.

Hebrew High gave me the opportunity to meet both teens and elderly people from all walks of life. I wouldn't have known Anna without the help and encouragement of Sharon. Tracing Roots youth partnership program transported me for a few hours a month to 1930s Europe, and 1920s New York and 1880s Vilna as Anna and I went further back and back through her family tree. Just last week, we had our last Sunday meeting for Tracing Roots, and Sharon gave all of the Hebrew High students a feedback sheet to assess the program: what both the residents and students had learned over the course of the last few months. Anna couldn't remember me this last week let alone everything that we had been doing for the last 9 months. But I remember, and I'm so grateful that Hebrew High gave me the opportunity to remember, even when Anna can't.