When you think of the elderly living in senior living facilities, do the words “vibrant” and “exciting” immediately come to mind? If they didn’t before, they will after seeing the New Look at Aging photo exhibition, a collection featuring original, colorful, and compelling photos of active seniors from Israeli photographer Oren Biran.
The joyful images showcase residents of the Nofei Yerushalayim senior housing facility in Jerusalem, who stepped outside their comfort zone as they were photographed playing with water guns and sunbathing poolside, spending quality time with a significant other, and enjoying a party.
“The exhibit offers viewers a fresh perspective on senior life. It’s breaking stereotypes and shows the energy and laugher exuded by this group of elders. They are valued members of society and should be treated as such as we seek to foster meaningful relationships with them,” said Deputy Israeli UN Ambassador David Roet, who served as the host of a special gathering sponsored by the Israeli Mission to the United Nations on July 5th, part of the UN’s Open-end Working Group on Aging conference.
Dozens of people from variety of diplomatic delegations, as well as leaders in the New York Jewish community, attended the Israeli-sponsored event. Among them were JDC CEO David Schizer; the exhibition’s photographer, and the director of the Nofey Yerushalaim senior housing facility, Pnina Sulzbacher.
“I first was introduced to Oren’s work when I saw the picture he shot of my son-in-law’s grandmother doing crazy poses. I immediately thought to myself that anything she can do, my residents can do better,” said Sulzbacher.
She said she called Oren and explained how lively the environment is within the walls of her facility. They talked about ideas, and then mutually agreed that the pictures needed to show that elderly people enjoy the same things everyone else does, no matter their age.
“We all are excited by daily moments in life, like being in love and surrounding ourselves with great friends; this is what connects us all as a peoplehood,” Sulzbacher added.
While there are many challenges that seniors continue to face in Israel, innovative solutions like those from JDC ESHEL, a JDC-Government of Israel partnership dedicated to services for seniors, can help to ensure their independence and dignity as they age.
“The New Look at Aging exhibit is not what you would expect from a senior facility. They are having fun, and enjoying each other’s company, and we think it’s fantastic that the UN is showcasing Oren’s work. These images show respect for the elderly, while simultaneously celebrating them, just like JDC ESHEL is striving to do,” said Carol Goldberg and Tricia Kallett, Chair and Vice Chair of JDC’s Board Committee for ESHEL.
Asher Kleingold, an 87-year-old resident of the senior housing facility featured in the photos, shared his thoughts about aging with those gathered: “When I retired, I thought I might be bored and was unsure how I would spend my time, but my wife and I soon realized that there was many volunteer activities to participate in. The photoshoot for the exhibit really was an incredible day and while my longtime friend Max and I initially thought the pictures might be contrived, after he winked at me, I shot him with my water gun and the authentic photo taking began.”
Aligned with JDC’s continued efforts in Israel to help change attitudes towards the elderly as well as to improve and strengthen the image of the elderly themselves, the pictures in the exhibit were also included in a calendar published by JDC ESHEL in 2015.
“The Beatles came out with the song, ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ fifty years ago, and one of its most profound lyrics is ‘Will you still need me when I’m 64?’ it was not so long ago that the elderly were perceived as contributing very little to society, yet the truth is seniors want to be engaged with their community. Since its beginning, JDC has provided key assistance to Jewish elderly, and our work through ESHEL with the Israeli government is helping this generation remain involved and active where they are located, which is a vital part of Israel’s future,” said Professor Yossi Tamir, Director of JDC’s Israel operation and a noted expert on the elderly.
Additionally, Oren Biran’s out-of-the-box approach to the art of picture taking helped greatly when deciding exactly what these photos should look like.
“My approach towards photography is rooted from the art of cinema. I create scenes or chapters that are a glimpse into reality, and then all of the images are placed together to create one big story that is larger than life,” said Oren Biran.
Calling the elderly subjects his “heroes,” he said that it doesn’t matter how old you are, instead what is most important is to consciously make the choice to be excited about life.
“We are proud to partner with the Israeli Mission and Nofei Yerushalayim to highlight the vibrancy and talents of Israeli seniors. JDC is privileged to work with Jewish seniors in Israel, the former Soviet Union, and throughout the world, and we know first-hand the wisdom, creativity, and vitality of elderly members of these Jewish communities,” said JDC CEO David Schizer.
The elderly, both in Israel and worldwide, have an incredible amount of knowledge and vitality to offer society, something that is made crystal clear through this photography exhibit.