When Sarah Rosenblum made aliyah with her husband and young son, they knew no one in Israel. As a convert from Australia, Sarah had no family, no friends – no one to ease the journey for them.
“It was a lonely road for a while,” she says.
That’s why she was thrilled when she discovered Xperience, a Ramat Beit Shemesh-based enrichment program and community for Anglo adults aged 50 and over. She was attracted by the wide array of classes and programs they offered, and loved participating in their regular trips.
But the real benefit? The women themselves. After searching for so many years, she’d finally found the extended family she’d been longing for.
“I’ve made wonderful, lasting friendships,” she says. “After the classes, we stay on to talk. We’ve become a social group; we celebrate our birthdays together. They’ve become my family here in Israel; I don’t know where I’d be without them.”
“After the classes, we stay on to talk. We’ve become a social group; we celebrate our birthdays together. They’ve become my family here in Israel; I don’t know where I’d be without them.”Sarah Rosenblum
This is exactly what Yaffa Iszaevich, the warm and enthusiastic Venezuelan-born founder and director of Xperience, had in mind when she started the organization nine years ago. After a friend mentioned to her that there was a real need for programming for older adult olim, Yaffa decided to try to fill that void.
Her opening event attracted a large crowd; buoyed by the eager response, Iszaevich found a venue – Ko Tomar, a local girls’ high school, generously offered to host them – and Xperience was officially launched. Drawing on her own professional experience as a fitness graduate from the Wingate Institute, Yaffa created a fitness program specifically geared to the 50+ population, and also brought in speakers and workshops on an array of topics.
Based on their early success, Yaffa and her husband, Rabbi Yakov Iszaevich, decided it was time to take this to the next step. They officially formed a nonprofit and set out to build Xperience into their dream organization: an all-encompassing place where older Anglo olim could find the intellectual, emotional, physical and social stimulation they needed to feel happy, anchored and fulfilled in their new home in Israel.
“Our goal is to help people form lasting friendships, while providing the highestlevel of programming,” says Yaffa. “Whether it’s a lecture on Jewish history or a Pilates class, we never compromise on the quality of what we offer because we know our audience is smart and discerning. They deserve the best!”
An array of activities and classes
Indeed, a quick survey of the classes, workshops and trips on Xperience’s typical monthly calendar is enough to make anyone run to sign up! Located today at the Matnas Gvanim of RBS-A, they offer Torah and history lectures from renowned rabbis like Berel Wein, Mendel Kessin, and Shmuel Phillips, as well as speeches by noted authors such as Roy and Leah Neuberger, Moe Mernick and Rabbi Judah Mischel.
They’re particularly grateful for Rabbi Wein’s continuous support and involvement in their program, including giving several popular Jewish history series, such as the History of Antisemitism, The Jews in the Court, and the Miraculous Founding of the State of Israel.
There are health and wellness lectures, financial seminars with Douglas Goldstein, CFP, cooking demos, art workshops and more. They have screenings of Jewish-interest movies, such as Rama Burshtein’s Fill the Void, The Wedding Plan, and Maya Batash’s Talking with G-d, followed by spirited discussion groups.
They’ve started a Short Story Club, led by Dr. Herbert Cohen, and they recently hosted celebrity artist Nurit Sirkis-Bank, who showed her popular TV program about Jewish outreach, “Od Nipagesh” (See You Again), and discussed its backstory.
And then there are the special events, such as Rosh Chodesh get-togethers and holiday parties, and trips. Their trips are not your run-of-the-mill Israel tours. As Yaffa puts it, “We make sure that each trip is tailored to our members’ interests.”
For example, upcoming trips include a visit to the ancient city of Megiddo and a tour of the Israel Museum’s exhibit on ancient coin minting, led by expert museum tour guide Nachliel Selavan.
This is all in addition to Xperience’s robust fitness division, which includes classes such as Pilat-sticity, a unique combination of Pilates and elasticity created specifically for Xperience; bone-building classes; strength and stretch class; a unique Jewish Zumba class; and chair and mat yoga.
A soft landing that lasts a lifetime
“Xperience serves as a soft landing for people coming into our community,” says honorary program director Julie Frank. “It’s a place where women feel that they belong. And we do everything we can, in all of our activities, to promote that feeling by helping women connect to each other. Xperience is not just about entertainment and diversion – above all, it’s about connection and engagement.”
As an example, Frank describes a recent dance program, led by hassidic choreographer and artist Gitty Porgesz. She brought everyone together into concentric circles, large and small, and had all the women interact with each other by moving in and out of circles in a unique dance. The event was about movement, but it was also about encouraging connection.
“Even the shyest person in the room participated,” Frank relates. “My mouth dropped open when I saw her get up and join.”
Frank made aliyah three years ago. She joined Xperience, and she loved it so much that she sat down with Iszaevich and said, “I want to get involved.”
“I loved Yaffa’s energy and believed very much in what she was trying to do,” Frank relates. In her own career, she’s produced many Fifty-Plus Expos in New York City and Chicago for tens of thousands of Baby Boomers, which featured major celebrities, authors, corporations and politicians. These shows were featured in articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and on The Today Show, CNN, CNBC and more. Now she wanted to use that professional expertise to help bring Xperience to the next level.
She describes Xperience today as “the Ramat Beit Shemesh version of the 92nd Street Y.”
THE NEED for such a program, she feels, cannot be overstated. “As the years go by, thank God, we’re seeing more and more older people making aliyah. For many, they’re fulfilling a long-time dream. But that doesn’t make their move easy. For older people, especially, it can be very difficult and even frightening to adjust to a new country.”
In addition, many older adults move to Israel to join children and grandchildren already living there. But when they arrive, they realize that they need their own community, too, where they can spend time with their own peers, engaging in activities that interest them at their stage of life.
Iszaevich recalls one particular woman who made aliyah because her husband had a strong desire to do so. Although she came along, she was very unhappy about it. She felt displaced, disoriented and miserable. Then she discovered Xperience – and her attitude slowly shifted. She’d found her home, a place where she belonged here in Israel.
Several months later, this woman unfortunately became very ill. But thanks to her new Xperience family, she was supported throughout the entire ordeal.
“At Xperience, our goal is to provide people not just with programs to fill up their time, but with an all-encompassing community,” says Frank. “We’re addressing their emotional, physical, spiritual and social needs. It is one of the most unique programs of this genre in Israel today.”
This is affirmed by Sarah Rosenblum, who shares that she has some friends who’ve moved out of Ramat Beit Shemesh over the years and have lamented that there’s no organization like Xperience in their new city.
According to Iszaevich, they’re constantly fine-tuning existing programs and adding new ones. For example, this year they inaugurated an Xperience Summer Camp.
“What’s most important for me is that Xperience should be good for the women – that it should expand their lives. We designed the program so that it should have every element a woman needs to age successfully.”
Frank adds that, “While it’s a program for older adults, it’s not a typical ‘senior citizen program.’ It’s not Bingo and sing-a-longs. It’s for active older adults who have varied and active interests.”
Welcoming to everyone
While Iszaevich and Frank emphasize that all the programming is run on a foundation of Torah values, their programs attract people from across the religious spectrum and from diverse countries, from the US, Canada, England, South Africa and Australia to Belgium, Finland, Brazil, Mexico, India and more. They are welcoming to all.
While the majority of programming is geared to women, their trips and selected programs are open to men as well. Their events, which are largely funded by the Ministry of Absorption and other organizations, attract hundreds of participants annually.
Iszaevich encourages women to take advantage of the varied membership tracks, which offer different options, according to the individual’s needs and interests.
“It’s the best gift a woman can give herself!” she exclaims.
The resounding success of the program is what has encouraged Iszaevich to publicize it even further. “We’ve seen so many women whose lives were literally transformed by being part of the Xperience community. That’s why it’s so important for us to let others know about this!”
Rosenblum couldn’t agree more. While she’s been an enthusiastic member of Xperience for the past few years, it took a tragedy this past winter to make her understand just how important such a group is. Her only son passed away suddenly, leaving her and her husband devastated. However, her Xperience family immediately surrounded them with care, letting them know they weren’t alone.
“We were overwhelmed with the support we got from Xperience,” she says. “Without them, life would be very different.”
It’s a feeling that’s echoed by the hundreds of women who’ve found their new lives in Israel not just eased but immeasurably enriched by Xperience. And, as more and more older olim arrive each year, they can take comfort knowing that they’ll have a place that will welcome them with open arms – and make them immediately feel at home. ■
For more information: www.xperiencerbs.com; contact: [email protected], 073-724-1637.