Parker Jewish holds third Senior Olympics

With all the pomp and circumstance befitting the occasion, residents and patients of the Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation gathered together for the 3rd Senior Olympics recently.

After the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic “flame,” via a “torch” held high by an elderly resident, Michael N. Rosenblut, president and CEO of Parker, greeted the participants, along with their families and friends in attendance.

After briefly explaining that the participants were divided into Blue, Red and Gold teams – eliciting cheers ¬from the teams in their turn ¬– he uttered the four words athletes wait years to hear. “Let the games begin!”

“This is just one of a number of activities [we] have organized,” said Kathy Mercadante, Assistant Director of Therapeutic Recreation at Parker Jewish, located on the campus of Long Island Jewish Healthcare System in the New Hyde Park section of Queens.

“The Institute has a wide range of activities every day – 365 days a year – games, entertainment, music, reading and art groups,” she noted.

But today, it was about sports – beanbag and tennis ball toss, a cross-sport shuffleboard/golf putting, ultra-light bowling and other events. The contestants played and cheered their teammates enthusiastically.

After the scores were tallied and the gold medals draped around the necks of the champions, many of the attendees went outside for a celebration with refreshments.

Remarkably, the Senior Olympic program was started thanks to an endowment from one of the referees – 16-year-old Ben Dickstein, grandson of Norma and Jack Parker, benefactors of the facility.

“He used his Bar Mitzvah money,” said his mom, Kim, beaming with pride. “He even got his friend to come with him.”

Although the Parkers once lived in Jamaica Estates, Ben and his pal, James Allen, are from Manhattan. So how do you convince teenagers to give up a perfect late-spring afternoon to spend it with the elderly?

“Oh, no – he asked me if he could come,” deadpanned Dickstein. “No, you asked me,” exclaimed Allen. Unsure of how the agreement actually came about, they finally agreed that “pizza was involved.”