Both coming from the health care field, Meryl and Jeff Kaplan share more than just professional interests. The University Heights couple also shares a love of volunteering during their retirement.
Meryl Kaplan volunteers at Montefiore of Menorah Park, helping with bingo, services, hand massages and other small activities. At the Kosher Food Pantry, she packs bags twice a week. She is also involved with the Cleveland Kids in Need Resource Center and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage gift shop.
Jeff Kaplan also volunteers at the Maltz Museum but as a docent, president of the Friends of the Maltz Museum and former board of trustees member. He also plays Teddy Roosevelt for the museum’s Presidents Day festivities. At Kol Israel Foundation, he is a docent and presenter at its Face to Face Holocaust education program and recently retired from the board of directors at the Mercury Theater Company. Jeff is also a member of the Shul Boys motorcycle club.
CJN: What attracted you to these specific activities?
Meryl: When I retired, I was a fairly young retiree. I knew I wanted to volunteer since it runs in my family. My mother was active, my father was a docent at several art museums where I grew up in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Jewish causes call to me. So, when I first moved to Cleveland, I had friends at the federation and got involved there.
That is how I eventually found my places, like the Kosher Food Pantry. That was appealing to me because we take for granted the freedom of eating, to eat out and to travel. After all, some people don’t have regular access to food. With Montefiore, they used to be one of my clients. When my mother was ill, she received care at a similar place back home so I wanted to pay my respects to her.
With the Maltz, I love the museum. When Jeff got involved, I kind of got shadow-involved. I love the diversity aspect there.
Jeff: Meryl was the one who pushed me into volunteering at the Maltz after seeing an advertisement in the CJN that they were looking for docents. My background may have been in health care, but I had a minor in education and history. So, I thought why not try this. The Friends of the Maltz Museum was created shortly after I joined in 2010 and I became the first president.
With Face to Face, I got involved while it was still at Congregation Shaarey Tikvah, volunteering at least weekly to tell students the story of how the Holocaust came to be. As for the Shul Boys, that is just a fun thing. They’re my buddies on two wheels.
CJN: Why was it important to volunteer in your retirement?
Meryl: I was pretty much a workaholic in a high-pressure job. I’m an active person, I don’t let the grass grow too much under my feet. So, I knew it was important to continue to stay active and do something that would bring me a sense of joy. Little did I realize that with volunteering, I am enjoying my life so much more now than when I was working, that there is life after work.
Jeff: Volunteering is a way of paying back. We continue to have good lives, but this an opportunity to help enrich the community through our activities. My opinion is that society is a two-way street, you not only take but you have to give.
CJN: What do you like most about volunteering?
Jeff: It’s a sense of personal satisfaction, a sense of doing something that is helping, something worthwhile for myself. It’s a sense of accomplishment, giving back and making a difference. Meryl and I both feel a sense of belonging, and that is very critical.
Meryl: This adds such a benefit to my life. I enjoy the sense of social activity, but also the aspect of helping others and being part of the community. We’re not from here, so this allows me to be part of the community in a different way.
CJN: How does your Jewish identity factor in?
Meryl: It’s all tikkun olam for me, wanting to make the world a better place and doing my part in that. It enriches my life. I know how important enjoying food and visiting my family is to me, so I want to make sure others have the same opportunity. So, I think Judaism is sharing who we are and helping others feel just as welcomed in the community.
Jeff: When you think of a tzedakah box, that is justice. It can be defined in a lot of ways, and though I am not big on ritual, the heritage aspect of Judaism is important to me. We are taught to share, help each other and bring others up out of whatever bad circumstances they may be in.
For the future of their retirement, pandemic permitting, the Kaplans want to get back to their love of traveling, hoping to visit Cape May, N.J., Maine and Israel, and visiting several national parks and zoos throughout the country.
“These are short-term and achievable, so that is what we’ll be doing, basically spending all of our time in the car or on a train,” Jeff Kaplan said.