Hausner 8th Grader Wins Third Place in National Better2Write Contest

Hausner 8th Grader Wins Third Place in National Better2Write Contest
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Hausner gratefully acknowledges the Better Together Program which has enabled our students to develop meaningful relationships with the elderly at Moldaw Residences. Hausner students have benefitted tremendously from their participation in the Better Together Program. They have made connections with the seniors and bonds that have allowed them to broaden their worldviews, look outside themselves, and support our community. 

The Better Together Program also includes the Better2Write writing contest. Entries for the writing contest focused on how the students were impacted by the program, as reflected in their feelings about seniors, aging, and the mitzvah of caring for the elderly.

We are thrilled to announce that Hausner 8th Grader Maya Mazin won third place in the National Better2Write Contest with her essay about learning to become herself under the mentorship of the generations before her. Kol Ha’Kavod, Maya!

Sunflowers, Butterflies, and Wishing Wells
By Maya Mazin

When I was six, my grandfather -- Dedushka Isay, as I call him in Russian -- was the best accomplice to my mischief that I could ever ask for. A twenty-year-old trapped in an eighty-five-year-olds body, we would spend our time together outdoors, taking care of the sunflowers growing in my grandparents garden while watching butterflies break out of their cocoons, spread their delicate wings, and fly. I often imagined what it would feel like to be a butterfly, delicate on the outside but also resilient and free.

This joyful time in my life abruptly ended one day when, over a meal of syrniki (a Ukrainian farmers cheese dish), I was informed by my parents that my grandfather was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer and would no longer be taking care of me after school. 
Shock. Confusion. Fear.


Seven years later (2023) …

Sweating in my striped-pink sweater, I anxiously await the bus from Moldaw coming to Hausner. I’m worried about meeting with my senior for the first time and skeptical that we will have anything to talk about.

Let's get this over with.

As I stand near the lunch tables, I see the gleaming bus filled with seniors turn into the school parking lot. I line up with my peers as, one by one, members of our Better Together program step out of the bus, a sea of wide smiles surrounded by soft wrinkly skin. 
“Maya, you’re with Jack Adler,” my teacher Maia tells me. As she points to my senior “buddy,” I see a man waving back as he watches me with interest. 

I walk to Jack, excited and nervous to learn more about him. After introducing ourselves, we sit down in our school’s sukkah, and I rack my brain for questions in order to fill the awkward quietness that seems to surround us in a thick wave. Before I have a chance to ask him anything, Jack breaks the silence.

“I want the world to treat all people better, do away with poverty and disease,” Jack tells me, surprising me with this thoughtful, somewhat out-of-the-blue remark.

“What would you say should be the priorities of the younger generation?” I ask, curious to hear more of his opinions on life.
“It is most important to lead a good ethical life and to do good for others.”

A month later…

I walk out of the elevator and immediately scan the room for Jack. His curiosity, intelligence, humor, and passion for social justice all inspired me, and I can’t wait to continue our discussions on the atomic bomb and morality of preemptive war. 
Not seeing him, I walk up to Maia, hoping she knows where Jack is.

“Is Jack here?” I ask, anticipating the answer and yet unwilling to believe it.

“I -- well, Jack has fallen ill and is in the hospital. I don’t know when he will be back. You can join another group,” Maia replies, walking off to refill the snack table.

Shock. Confusion. Anger.

With a heavy heart I once again look around the room, joining another group. I’m excited to meet a new senior, but I am also scared that I might never see Jack again.

Four months later…

Over the past months, I have been paired with another senior -- a wonderful woman named Joanne. We’ve had plenty of fun together talking about our favorite recipes, but I still feel a gaping hole in me that opened with my grandfather’s stage four cancer diagnosis and that was only deepened when Jack fell ill.

I have tried my best to stay in contact with Jack. I baked him cookies, crocheted hats, wrote letters, and prayed for his health countless times; and yet, Jack remains severely ill. 

When my grandfather became sick, I was too young to understand what was happening. But this time around, I’ve learned to not take the relationships that I have with the older generation for granted. My one meeting with Jack, although boring to the outside eye, gave me an extremely rare opportunity -- I was able to interact with a member of the older generation and have deep, meaningful conversations, something that I have not gotten to do in the past years due to my dedushka’s failing health. 

I was especially inspired by how Jack was not afraid to be himself and share his opinions. My parents grew up in Ukraine with the constant fear of standing out, being “too Jewish,” and saying something “wrong.” Although they immigrated to America more than thirty years ago, they are still hesitant to speak up about their beliefs because of the effects the Soviet regime had on them. Stories of their experiences have been woven into my own identity, and I also am reluctant to showcase my Judaisim and share my world views.

Jack is the polar opposite. He is not only unapologetically proud of being Jewish, but he is also not afraid to share his opinions with others. He does not live in fear of saying something wrong — he relishes the idea that somebody else might disagree with him and that he will be able to engage in a meaningful conversation. 

Jack’s courage and perseverance continues to inspire me. I wish that I had the bravery to not be afraid to be myself and share my opinions with the world. I also wish that I had the determination that Jack finds in himself in order to still have a zest for life and the energy to crack witty jokes, even after having to fight a hard battle every single day over these past months.

Because of this, I’ve realized that Jack is just like the baby sunflowers I took care of in my grandfather's garden seven years ago. Although weak, he stands with pride and brings joy into everybody’s life, always seeing the good in others. Just like sunflowers work together to absorb moisture from soil and grow, Jack is always willing to spread his leaves and support others. Right now, I think I’m like a sunflower seed, trying my best to reach towards the light. But I wish that one day I will have deep roots and stand tall, spreading my petals towards the smaller, weaker, flowers.
But most of all, I wish that Jack could see me as I spread my wings and fly.


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