Can one young man brighten up seniors’ day? Discuss!

College freshman David Markovich enjoys leading a discussion group for his “stand-in grandparents” at Wiggins Place. .

The room is humming with a lively discussion about the Russian government’s announcement it will work to achieve an independent Palestinian state. Sitting around tables arranged in a U, some people are pretty knowledgeable about global politics; others speak from the heart.

This weekly discussion group (no reading, no homework) is led by David Markovich, a freshman at John Carroll University. The “students” are residents at Wiggins Place.

The group, all of whom are old enough to remember the founding of Israel as a Jewish state, agree that a two-state solution would be better than the ongoing wars but worry, as one says, that “Israel always ends up upstream.”

 “Everybody loves him here,” says Elayne Marcus, one of 20 members of the discussion group, of Markovich. “He brings entertainment.”

Markovich started volunteering at Montefiore, transporting wheelchairs and other small jobs, to earn community service credit while a student at Beachwood High School. “I started enjoying it,” he says. “I feel appreciated, and they feel appreciated.”

He wanted to continue volunteering after high school, so Wiggins offered him two time slots to plan some sort of Judaic activity. That was a perfect fit for someone with his Jewish background.

His parents Irene and Levy Markovich came from the former Soviet Union, so they didn’t grow up observing Jewish holidays or traditions. They sent their son to Gross Schechter Day School because they wanted him to have the Jewish opportunities they never had. The traditions were appealing to Markovich, and he began to seek out new ways to learn and connect to Judaism, particularly through youth groups like NCSY, BBYO and the Israel Culture Club. He started attending services at Heights Jewish Center Synagogue with his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, and becoming more observant.

“So here I am, 18 years old, having Judaic discussions at a senior home,” he says. “The first day, I had three people. We talked about ‘What does it mean to be a Jew?’ We had a great discussion.”

The secret, Markovich learned, is not what he presents, but how well he listens. The group often asks his opinion, but he demurs, saying, “Everyone has their own opinions.”

More and more people started coming to the twice-weekly discussion group – the residents call it “going to David.” Markovich mixes in current events, Torah study and controversial topics.

“One good discussion we had was about Christians donating money to Israel. Is it good for the country?” he says. “We talk about everything from politics, to abortion, to a group in California that wants to ban circumcision.”

Some of his college friends don’t get it, he admits. “I say it’s something I enjoy doing, I gain a lot out of it. I feel like it’s a learning experience for me.”

And then, there are numerous invitations to meet his new friends’ granddaughters.

With all these perks, Markovich has decided to consider a career in the nursing home industry.

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