As a lifelong Rhode Islander who works with seniors, I’m pretty familiar with what the golden years look like around here.
I know, for example, that in Providence, old friends meet for coffee at the Senior Cafe at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, or to play competitive mahjong there during a feisty tournament. I know that in Narragansett, retirees take in the salty air while strolling along the shore, and enjoy the sunset with a cocktail on Turtle Soup’s slanted lawn. And I know that in Cranston, they greet each other at the Kosher Rainbow Bakery.
So, when I visited my brother while he was living in Israel earlier this year, I was especially attuned to what life is like for Israeli seniors.
In the bustle of Tel Aviv, old men hang out their windows over orange trees, watching the world go by. In Jerusalem, you see elderly women handily navigating the well-worn cobblestone streets with their canes on the way home from the shuk. In Herzliya, you’ll find the discarded shells of sunflower seeds everywhere, a sure sign of an elderly population.
While both have their charms and frustrations, the Land of Milk and Honey and the Ocean State are very different places to spend your retirement.
In honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary, I’ve created a lighthearted comparison of seven – one for each decade – pros, cons and quirks of the senior communities in both places. But keep in mind that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you live, or how old you are — it’s about how you’re living.
Language: In Israel, many assisted-living facilities and adult communities offer Hebrew lessons for residents whose first language is English, with the primary goal of allowing them to communicate easily with their Hebrew-speaking Israeli grandchildren.
In Rhode Island, the Jewish Alliance is a fantastic resource for adult-education Hebrew classes, and the group of Israelis in Rhode Island (www.israelisri.com) is an excellent hub for ex-pat Israelis who want to learn to speak like a true Rhode Islander. (Pro tip: start saying “wicked” often and pronounce “weird” as “weeeahd.”).
Funerals: Israeli law mandates that the nation pay for graves and burial fees for both residents and visiting tourists.
For those making their final plans, this is a big relief. In Rhode Island, “the costs surrounding Jewish burials vary depending on several different factors,” said Adam Smith, director of Shalom Memorial Chapel, in Cranston. “Each cemetery has different charges for the cost of graves and associated services. For the funeral itself, we tailor the service to a family’s needs and wishes.”
Nutrition: Due to Israel’s abundance of fresh, local produce and Mediterranean-influenced diets, the average senior eats relatively well: olive oil instead of butter, plenty of vegetables, and few preservatives and packaged foods. There are, of course, also endless Kosher options – the meat in all supermarkets is Kosher unless you specifically seek out the non-Kosher markets.
Rhode Island is more of a desert than Israel when it comes to keeping Kosher. Meat is especially difficult to find, although there are a few places, including the small selection at Trader Joe’s, Davis Dairy Products in Providence, and Eastside Marketplace, in Providence, which has a Kosher butcher service on Thursdays. As for the American diet in general, well, you know, we could all be making better choices.
Exercise: Most Israeli communities are navigable on foot, and there are more benches for resting than in Rhode Island. Here at home, with a few exceptions, such as Newport, seniors must rely on cars or public transportation to get them where they want to go, just like the rest of us. However, both places offer plenty of exercise options.
In Tel Aviv, seniors dance on the Tayelet, the famous seaside promenade, on Saturday afternoons. At The Phyllis Siperstein Tamarisk Assisted Living Residence, in Warwick, residents get into the swing of it on ’50s nights.
Family/Guilt: Although Israel is larger than the smallest state in the U.S., the guilt factor appears to be stronger in Israel because children and grandchildren are never farther away than a few hours’ drive. The country’s familial culture means that most clans spend Friday nights together, regardless of religious observance. And if they don’t, that famous Israeli brashess means you’ll get an earful from the family matriarchs and patriarchs.
Gans (kindergartens) in Israel have “gan safta/saba” programs, in which a local senior is assigned to be a class grandparent, and there are also “adopt a safta (grandmother)” programs.
In RI, family guilt has less pull: although the state is small, the kinderlach often grow up and move far beyond its borders.
Health care: True to its socialist roots, Israel has excellent universal health care. However, wait times for appointments with specialists can sometimes be many months, which is a long time for anyone to wait, but especially a senior.
In Rhode Island, in addition to private insurance, there is Medicare, and for all the bad press it gets, in my experience it generally provides sufficient coverage.
Aging: Israel has a strong state-run pension system, which means the average person has enough money in retirement. Israel is also committed to “aging in place.” Trained in-home health aides are widely available, and the state provides in-kind in-home services, subsidized day programs and free transportation for the elderly.
Rhode Islanders also understand the value of allowing loved ones to age in place; that is, to stay in their homes with support, instead of moving into an assisted living facility. However, as the owner of a home-care agency, I know that most care costs will fall on the individual or the family, unless the senior has totally depleted his or her funds and is therefore eligible for Medicaid. The options can seem complicated and confusing, and because good advice can be hard to find, at our agency, we offer free consultations about care formats, potential costs and access to funds.
No matter what continent you live on, it’s important to be able to cut through the haze and make a customized, workable plan so you can enjoy your senior years as fully as possible.
NAOMI FINK COTRONE runs the Right at Home of Rhode Island agency, which provides care to elderly and disabled adults throughout R.I. When she’s not pouring her heart into her clients, you may find her planning her next trip to Israel or dreaming about its fresh-fruit smoothie stands.