Israeli app taps the wisdom of elders for those stuck at home
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Israeli app taps the wisdom of elders for those stuck at home

Esther Hershcovich designed her English-language site while in COVID-19 quarantine. ‘Elderly have so much to teach. We have so much to learn, and now we have the time’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Retired seniors have so much expertise to pass on, says Esther Hershcovich, an immigrant to Israel from Canada, who is launching the SAGE platform. (Zinkevych/iStock/Getty Images)
Retired seniors have so much expertise to pass on, says Esther Hershcovich, an immigrant to Israel from Canada, who is launching the SAGE platform. (Zinkevych/iStock/Getty Images)

Like thousands of others Israelis, Esther Hershcovich found herself in quarantine recently — in her case, after returning from a ski trip in Austria. But the two weeks of isolation, and the fact that there were millions of others around the world also stuck at home, gave her the chance to develop an online learning platform aimed at allowing retirees to share their life skills with others who suddenly have time on their hands.

This was not her original plan. Hershcovich, a 32-year-old interior designer employed by a Tel Aviv architecture firm, had been spending her limited spare time while at work developing and piloting in Israel a program to physically match skilled retirees with individuals in their own communities wanting to learn with them one on one.

Aimed at encouraging interaction between neighbors, the platform was set to launch in Israel, and later on in the US and Canada, upon her return from skiing.

But during the quarantine period that followed, the Canadian immigrant realized not only that physical meetings were not going to be possible under the shadow of coronavirus, but that elderly people were among the hardest hit by measures to control the spread of the pandemic, and that many were feeling isolated.

At that point, she changed direction and, together with her skiing pal who was in quarantine with her and works for Powtoon — a producer of software for animation videos —  she created an online platform with a global reach called SAGE.

Esther Hershcovich, founder of SAGE. (Courtesy)

“My parents in Montreal were the spark for the idea,” Hershcovich told the Times of Israel. “They have so many skills, so much still to impart. This is about me giving back to them.”

Her mother, a retired midwife, is already signed up as a SAGE, as the teachers are called, to teach about prenatal care. Other experts being reviewed include a rabbi and life coach in Italy, a mahjong teacher from New Jersey, a psychologist and expert in anxiety management from Australia, a chiropractor who specializes in lower back pain and care from Canada and an Israeli who wants to teach “From doodle to design.”

The site already offers categories from arts, business and education to home, health and spirituality.

Hershcovich, who immigrated six years ago, is looking for an initial pool of 100 experts — she has collected around 30 names so far — and 200 students. She envisages that this will expand within a short period of time.

During the first stage, those wishing to learn will pay a small charge and at the end of the courses (which will vary in length), they will be asked whether they would like to tip the teacher.

The site will launch to the public in a couple of days and some of the classes will start next week. The SAGEs will all be over 60, but people of all ages, as well as families, are welcome to subscribe as students.

“People retire and have all this extra time on their hands, and then what?” said Hershcovich. “Many of them are in good health and have so much energy and expertise and we can learn so much from them. Even as I was building the program, I tapped into the retiree community for help with strategy, marketing and editing.”

Surprisingly, when Hershcovich surveyed the market, she found nothing similar to her idea. One company in Israel was offering to reintegrate seniors into the workforce for a couple of days a week. “But I saw nothing relevant for the gig economy [which connects service providers and consumers online in a flexible way] that would enable people to work for a couple of hours, doing something they love.”

“Doing this, I have met people with such brilliant minds. I visited with one retired lady in the Sharon area who held a very senior position in the music world. When I started talking to her about teaching something music-related, she said, ‘Oh no, I want to teach origami!” Her home was filled with the most remarkable origami creations.”

Hershcovich also met a couple who immigrated from Texas in 2005. Michael and Kathy Pincus, early experts in artificial intelligence, were contracted by NASA following the Challenger disaster in 1986 to help determine what caused the space shuttle to explode.

“When they came to Israel, they were excited to share their information with the Startup Nation but found their experience was not wanted,” Hershcovich said.

Michael Pincus’s hobbies are traditional archery — he brought an archery stand with him to Israel — and collecting 19th century advertising art.

Said Hershcovich, “The over-60s generation is so much more developed when it comes to hobbies.”

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