Who wants to play chess? Perhaps you’ve seen unlikely players paired up in NYC parks where many games are happening in the public forum. DOROT, a nonprofit organization that aims to alleviate social isolation among seniors, has taken a page out of that playbook. Instead of waiting for someone to sit down and play at one of the stone tables set up at the parks—if you’re familiar—DOROT is bringing the game to seniors and teens with a Westchester program launch this September.
Not too long ago, senior Herman Bomze approached DOROT expressing an interest in playing chess. With the organization’s goal to help older adults connect with volunteers to help them stay independent in the community, the organization filed his interest and waited for someone to express their own interest in playing the competitive game.
Enter 13-year-old Zachary Targoff. For a mitzvah project, he was encouraged to get involved with DOROT. As a nationally ranked chess player, he was the perfect person to pair up with Bomze, and despite an 80-year separation, they started playing regularly and established a great rapport. “I love playing chess with Zachary,” said Bomze. “I am two generations away from him, but he’s a formidable opponent.”
Targoff loved the opportunity to give back, and a Manhattan-based chess program was launched, funded by his bar mitzvah money. It truly “gave the teens and seniors a chance to connect,” said Eric Solomon, marketing and development associate at DOROT. “It can be intimidating as a 13-year-old to go into a senior’s home. With chess being an intermediary between them, they were able to relax and be themselves and grow these relationships.”
Giving seniors this outlet to play a game that lives through the generations inspired the Targoff family to bring it to other regions, such as Boston and Los Angeles. But before the successful program leaves New York, it was important for DOROT to try it closer to home. That gave rise to the planned Westchester launch, which was also funded by the Targoff family. “So many seniors are socially isolated in Westchester” in particular, Solomon said, and this would be a great outlet for them to connect. With DOROT having a presence in Westchester since 2004, offering services such as friendly visiting, telephone-based education courses and other senior-focused educational programs, the popularity of the NYC chess initiative gave rise to founding a forum for chess games in Westchester.
Starting in September, weekly sessions to play with teens will be held at the Solomon Schechter School in Hartsdale. Seniors will arrive at 4 to enjoy snacks, and games will begin at 4:20, with game playing to run until 6 p.m. “It’s not intended to be a competitive chess club, but to be an opportunity to bond over their shared experiences and Jewish tradition,” Solomon explained.
“The familiarity of playing chess can help get the conversations started. They can learn that these seniors are real people, and they can talk to them with ease. I am sure it has made many of the kids more comfortable with the concept of intergenerational interaction,” said Josh Targoff, Zachary’s father. “At the same time, the seniors not only feel the energy of sitting in a room with a bunch of teens, but they also get to exercise their brains.”
“It stokes the intellectual and even (at times) competitive flames of the seniors,” Kim Targoff added. “We continue to be inspired by the connection made between our son Zachary and Herman Bomze.”
“By coincidence, or, as some of us may believe, by divine providence, thanks to DOROT, both our families are now delightfully and deeply connected by the chess match made in heaven,” said Herman’s daughter, Bracha-Nechama Bomze, who attended Zachary’s bar mitzvah celebration. It’s fairly clear that there is a great opportunity to build a relationship over a common interest, and the intellectually stimulating game of chess is a perfect forum to connect young and old alike.
DOROT will work with any seniors who require transportation so they can attend the program. For more information, contact Cippi Harte at 914-573-8906 or visit dorotusa.org.
By Tamar Weinberg