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Swing meets hip-hop at intergenerational prom in New Haven

Read this story in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger

By Cindy Mindell

NEW HAVEN – Mix one part teens from BBYO Connecticut Valley Region, and one part residents, staff, and family members of Tower One/Tower East senior living community. Add in fancy dress and corsages, and turn up the music. The result? The “Senior Prom,” hosted by The Towers on June 4, which brought together some 175 attendees from three generations.

The inspiration for the evening emerged as BBYO teens were brainstorming a project that would express the Jewish value of l’dor vador – “from generation to generation” – and thought of a creative way to bridge the generational gap.

“The idea was to connect our Jewish teen community to the Greater New Haven Jewish community at large,” says Tyler Pepe, associate regional director of BBYO Connecticut Valley Region. Six teens participating on a joint planning committee with a group of Towers residents, among them, Isador Juda, who was also elected prom king.

“We all agreed that it was time to do it,” Juda says of his fellow committee-members. “Afterwards, residents who were not in favor of it were very glad they came and told us it was a beautiful evening.”

Juda, 93, postponed knee-replacement surgery until after the event, where he was able to get in some good dancing with prom queen Bessie Ellis. Nearly 50 BBYO teens attended.

“One of our core principles as an organization is community service, but this was beyond community service in the traditional sense,” says Pepe. “The Senior Prom was a fun concept and got a lot a lot of people from both sides excited. It’s important for Jewish teens to have meaningful, positive Jewish experiences. If there is a unique angle to community outreach, the CVR BBYO teens always respond in a big way.”

“The prom was a success from start to finish,” says Mark S. Garilli, president and CEO of the Towers. “This was something we had never done before and we were not sure how the evening was going to turn out. But residents, families, and staff alike were blown away at the evening’s success and all agreed that, moving forward, this should be an annual event. With corsages for the ladies and flowers for the men, a professional photographer, and music for all ages, the night was filled with dancing, laughter, and loads of fun.”

“I felt it would be nice to get dressed up and go to this prom,” she says. “The fact that young people were going to be there and that they were going to play my kind of music really drew me. I had a great time.”

Rifkin, a lifelong avid swing dancer, comes honestly by her “hoofer” pedigree: after retiring from office work, she spent 25 years tap-dancing with a group of fellow senior women who performed at senior living facilities throughout New Haven. Rifkin quit the group only three years ago. “It’s never too late to go to a prom,” she said. “It made me feel young, especially dancing with the young men from BBYO. It was just another great reason to get all dressed up and party.”

Towers residents and staff displayed photos of themselves at their own high-school proms and tried to identify one another’s younger images.

“The stars of the night were our residents, members of our Resident Services Committee, and the BBYO kids, who all worked together for another shining example of intergenerational success,” says Garilli. “These kinds of programs bring youths and older adults together for an educational experience that lasts a lifetime.”

Rifkin, Garilli, and others at the Towers hope to see the Senior Prom become an annual event, while prom king Juda is striking a cautious note for now. “When you get to a certain age, you don’t make plans very far ahead!” he says.

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