Nearly all her life, Susan Bernstein worked to educate children, whether it was working in the classroom or running educational programs at synagogues.
Today, though, her passion is seniors, bringing joy to their lives through her work at The Jewish Pavilion.
“It’s seeing the gratefulness, the thankfulness, the joy, the appreciation, the immediate gratitude for your help,” Susan says. “As an educator, you are hopeful and have faith that kids are learning, but you don’t have that feedback. Occasionally, you get a letter of thanks, and you know that you were successful.”
“Working with seniors, however, you get that right away,” she adds.
For the past five years, Susan has been leading programs in senior communities as a staff member of the organization. Recently, she was promoted to the Senior Program Director, working with all The Jewish Pavilion program directors, along with overseeing nearly a dozen monthly programs in communities throughout our region.
“I always put my parents’ and grandparents’ face on the face of the seniors I spend time with,” Susan says. “Seniors are often disengaged and are lonely and apart from the people in their lives. I would have wanted someone to be there for my parents and grandparents, supporting them and just making sure they could smile.”
Susan came to Orlando to work at Temple Israel in 2014, moving down from Rochester, N.Y. for a reason that’s typical of people moving to Florida – she wanted a warmer climate.
Moving across the country – or the world – was nothing new for Susan. She grew up on Long Island, but lived in Israel, Dallas, Omaha and more. For 14 years, she taught at a Jewish day school in Seattle and was the director of education for a conservative congregation’s school in Portland.
At one stop, she was even a disc jockey for a classical music station.
One of the projects she worked on at Temple Israel’s school was bringing children to Cascade Heights to sing and act, tell stories, and just spend time with the seniors. It was there she became familiar with the efforts of The Jewish Pavilion.
One of the program directors at the time asked if Susan would like to help her out and Susan discovered she truly liked it. She started doing the programs as a volunteer and when that program director retired, Susan was offered the position.
“I’m grateful I have this opportunity because it’s a win/win where I often benefit as much as the seniors,” she says. “To repair the world, there are many ways to do that, but if you look at all the problems, you can often think you are just an insignificant person meandering through life.
“It can get discouraging, but it’s often not your responsibility to finish the job,” she adds. “Every little thing we can do in the world makes a difference. We must go on faith and believe the little things make positive impacts. And, if we fill the world with positive impacts, we do make a difference.”