One woman drove a motorcycle to deliver babies in Morocco. Another had been a Hungarian table tennis champion. One man survived a Siberian gulag, and another went to work in Montreal each day until the age of 98.
The 22 centenarians who were honoured at Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare in September represented more than 2,000 years of living among them—each of them, individually, with a rich story to tell.
And those stories were brought to light, thanks to the dedication of the Recreation team’s educators along with Josie Di Benedetto, Coordinator of Therapeutic Leisure and Recreology. Since 2010, when Ms. Di Benedetto launched the initiative, the long-term care centre has dedicated itself to celebrating its centenarians with a tribute to these superstars of longevity.
“Too often, all we see are older people in a wheelchair. But these people had lives, and I want to honour them. Everyone has a story.”Josie Di Benedetto
This year’s celebration—the first since the COVID-19 pandemic—was no different. Months ahead of the gathering, Recreation Educators Barbara Lopez, Sabrina Cabral and Stana Cvitan reached out to family members to collect the life stories of residents who’d reached a three-digit milestone. The eldest among them is 104.
On September 10, festivities got underway for the honourees, featuring bouquets of roses, a cake, and framed birthday messages from Canada’s Governor General, as well as King Charles and the Queen Consort. Then, as family photographs were projected onto a screen, the tributes flowed. Surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, along with the centre’s devoted staff, these centenarians were treated to homages about their importance in their families’ lives.
“He still makes us laugh and smile, a true blessing every day he is still with us,” one said about his 100-year-old father.
“Thank you for giving me the example of how strong and independent a woman can be. It has made me a better man,” one son said about his 102-year-old mother.
“Our mother’s journey, from the darkness of the Holocaust to the brightness of her life in Canada, is a testament to the human spirit’s capacity to endure and overcome,” wrote another. “She has proven that even in the face of unimaginable suffering, one can find the strength to build a life filled with love, purpose and hope.”
As Ms. Di Benedetto looked out at the crowd and saw adult children with tears in their eyes, holding their parents in their arms, she knew her efforts were worthwhile. “It’s then that I know I chose the right field,” Ms. Di Benedetto says. “I feel I can make a difference.”
Leah Berger, Assistant to the Director of Support Program for the Autonomy of Seniors (SAPA), credits the Recreation team’s hard work and collaboration for making the event a success.
“The team carefully planned every detail, ensuring that the residents received their rightful recognition and that their families could be present to celebrate with them.”Leah Berger
“The resident biographies that were shared during the ceremony were very meaningful and are a testament to the Recreation team’s efforts to build relationships with the residents and celebrate their life histories,” Ms. Berger adds.
Barbara Lopez, one of the three Recreation Educators at Jewish Eldercare who collected the residents’ stories, says she considers the undertaking a form of recognition.
“I work with the residents on a daily basis—I know them personally and it’s really nice to honour them,” she says. “They’re an inspiration to all of us.”
* Funding for the centenarian celebrations was provided by the Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare Foundation