Every year at Gurwin Jewish’s assisted living community in Commack, L.I., a fierce competition takes place.
The prize: to be a calendar girl (or guy) in Gurwin’s Fay J. Lindner Residences annual edition of “L’dor v’dor.”
While calendars featuring the 70- through 90-something set are not unique, most approach it from a comic angle — the naked-yet-strategically-covered theme is particularly popular, followed by a surprising number of calendars in which octo- and nonagenarians recreate iconic movie scenes.
Gurwin’s calendar, now in its fifth year, takes a more serious approach. Each month features a professional photo of a resident, or, in two cases, a couple. Along with the photo is a tidbit or two from their lives (three escaped Nazi Germany, one blazed a trail for women in computer engineering, a third was a professional dancer, a fourth a Madison Avenue advertising exec of Alka Seltzer-ad fame) as well as advice from them for the next generation. (Hence the title, which translates to “From generation to generation.”)
In many of the photos, the residents hold props: a newspaper, knitting needles, an old photograph, paper dolls. In all of the photos, the models look energetic, excited, and, in the case of the two couples, in love.
“Having a calendar lets the world know that [growing old] is not to be ashamed of, that old people are vibrant,” said Lorraine Parver, 89, during a telephone interview. Parver and husband, Lester, 93, are on the cover. Their advice: Make time for family, but also for yourself. “Cultivate your own interests,” Parver advises. “It’s important to have that balance.”
Staci Rosenberg-Simons, Gurwin’s director of marketing and community relations, came up with the idea as a way to show off Gurwin’s best asset: its people.
“I thought: ‘If we could put our residents out there to speak for themselves,’” she said, people would see that they “are still active, still vibrant, that they have a purpose, have a life.”
And also that they have wisdom to share.
Ruth deBeer and her family sold everything they owned and left Germany for Palestine six months before Kristalnacht. She married, moved to the United States, raised three children and then went to college at the age of 50.
Her advice? Never forget.
“I rebuilt my life, because that’s how we honor those we lost in the Holocaust,” she said in the calendar. “We go on, but we should never forget.”
Florence Levenbaum, 91, a former dancer and physical education teacher, is pictured with a tennis racket. She says that while exercise is important, “it’s just as important to greet every day with a smile.”
Sandra Peltz, 88, who spent 25 years as registrar of Hofstra University, stresses the importance of appreciating that everyone has something to teach you.
Helen and Mel Morgenstein, boasting a marriage 73 years strong, tout the benefits of mutual respect.
Participating in the calendar is no small thing. The models first get their hair and makeup professionally done. They then have a photo shoot and are interviewed about their lives for a short film that is debuted, along with the calendar, at a red carpet-style event in early November.
For many of the models, it’s the opportunity to be fussed over, as much as the final product, that they cherish.
“Once you let people have that moment that says, ‘We really think the world of you,’ I think it gives people more confidence,” said Dennine Cook, Gurwin’s community and media relations director.
This was certainly true for Susan Shanzer, who, as Miss December, praises the merits of planning ahead.
“I had my hair done, I had my makeup put on,” she says in the short film. “I couldn’t believe it was me. I looked really pretty.
“Right now it sounds like I have a big swelled head,” she added, “but right now I do.”