Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jordan Mittler, a freshman at the Ramaz Upper School, will never forget the day his 94-year-old protégé, Bonnie, sent him her first-ever email. “hi Jordan iam sending you this email my first one and i am very happy,” the Oct. 2016 email read — no caps, few spaces.
“I don’t think I was ever more excited to receive an email,” said Mittler, beaming, as we sat across from each other in a Ramaz classroom, his lanky frame folded behind a desk.
Mittler’s passion for educating seniors about technology, which began as a bar mitzvah project two years ago when he met Bonnie, has scaled from a one-on-one tutoring session into a formal, weekly tech crash-course for seniors, with a 10-week curriculum penned by the 15-year-old Manhattan native. The course, which Mittler publicized with the help of his synagogue, Kehilath Jeshurun (KJ), drew a committed crowd of over two dozen seniors, ready to crack the code of their iPhones.
“I was told the class was one of the most popular programs KJ ever offered,” said Mittler.
For a self-described tech native — “I’ve spent the majority of my lifetime texting, Snapchatting, Instagramming and texting,” he said — it is exciting to impart the skills and techniques that to him are second nature. “Like when I teach the class how to make the text on a document bigger,” he said, describing the collective intake of breath and spattering of applause when he demonstrates the technique. “The whole class goes ‘Whoa!’ A skill like that changes everything. If I have a passion for technology, why not use it to help makes others’ lives more meaningful?”
The course, which Mittler runs on a volunteer basis every Sunday from the Ramaz Middle School computer lab, will be back, by popular demand, this fall.
“They are the best students I’ve ever seen,” said Mittler, who said his sept- and octo-genarian students arrive to class on time, sit right up in front and come prepared with notepads and pencils. “When their faces light up, that’s everything,” said Mittler. “It reminds me about the joy of learning something new, no matter what age.”
Piano man: Before he could read, Mittler could play the piano. He began official lessons at age five, and has since performed at Steinway and Carnegie Halls.