LONG ISLAND, NY – Sharing Your Memories is essentially a memory-writing workshop, but to its members, it’s so much more; it’s a way of chronicling each and every member’s unique pathway through life towards becoming the wonderful people they are today.
Marilyn Leibowitz, Plainview resident and the Sharing Your Memories Coach, said that the group originally started about two years ago; meeting regularly at Plainview-Old Bethpage Library, Leibowitz had just handed out the group’s 44th assignment in a series of assignments doled out over the past two years meant to get to the very core of what makes each and every member tick.
“What we do is that I provide an assignment a few days a head of time, and everyone writes or comes in here and is willing to share their experience based on the topic,” she said. “I’m not in charge of the people…whether they write or they don’t write, that’s not my job. I just provide the basis for what we talk about. We just go around the table and talk about our experiences based on the assignment.”
Topics range from the entire kaleidoscope of human experience- school, childhood, summer vacation…while an occasional assignment may cover something in a participant’s modern life, the group’s discussions center more on aspects of an individual’s past, Leibowitz said. Assignments are emailed to members a few days before a meeting, giving them enough time to decide how to tackle it; at each meeting, those present each get a chance to share their stories, one by one in an open, judgment-free environment.
“My motivation for starting this group was admittedly a selfish reason…I wanted to be able to write about my experiences, and I figured that the only way to get that done is by leading a group,” she said. “I wasn’t always a writer…I just wanted to be able to get my experiences out there for my family as apart of my legacy. Your family knows who you are when you arrived, but they don’t know your story before you arrived.”
These stories, member Alice Silverman said, slowly take the form of something tangible and extremely emotional that can be handed down throughout the ages.
“As we do each assignment, each person is actually writing a book,” she said. “They’re essentially writing their autobiography…something that their family could, upon our passing, could read of our experiences and then it could become their book.”
Sharing Your Memories member Doris Cooper said that such openness among members can not only be cathartic for the individual sharing their story, but helpful in other ways to those awaiting their turn to speak.
“Sometimes when you look at one of these questions that Marilyn gives us, you think that you have absolutely nothing to say about it,” she said. “But then someone will say something and it will indeed trigger a memory, like one time when I was reminded of a bicycle that my father had bought me when I was 12. It the little things like that that make this class so wonderful to participate in…we all come from different places, but we all have similar memories and experiences.”
Leibowitz pointed out that Sharing Your Memories owes its existence in part to the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center of Plainview’s Neighborhood Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NNORC) program, which is primarily a volunteer-driven organization that is dedicated to helping the elder members of the community, free of charge. However, she also pointed out that, despite this designation, community members of all ages were welcome to participate in Sharing Your Memories.
“It’s not meant as outlet, it’s meant as a tool to be able to express their background, no matter how old you are,” she said. “We don’t write about our experiences chronologically…that, I think, would be boring, and I feel that you tend to lose a lot doing it that way. The topic can be much more broad and exciting when it comes in a random order.”
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