A Game of Chess Opens Memories

Posted on August 11, 2016

Volunteering at Melabev can bring quite unexpected surprises.

I am a 48 year old woman living in Switzerland and came to Israel this summer as a volunteer with the goal of improving my Hebrew.  Melabev’s Memory Clubs provide activities and innovative treatment methods aimed at stimulating those affected by Alzheimer’s and improving their quality of life.

I would have never thought an Israeli playing chess would ever impress me so much. At the Memory Club in Givat HaMasua, I learned about a club member who spoke a lot about having played chess.  He was warmly encouraged by the madrich (group leader) to try to play the game with me.

The gentleman told me repeatedly that he hadn’t played chess for more than 50 years.  I myself hadn’t played for 34 years!  This man turned out to be a very good player.  He must certainly have had more experience than me and he won brilliantly each time.

Although I consider myself a rather poor player, he didn’t seemed disappointed by me as a partner.  The opportunity to play the game was what mattered the most to him.

Moreover, and what’s far more important, each time we played, he improved; seemingly connecting to his prior play even though he would start off each game by saying he didn’t remember having played with me before.

With a little encouragement on my side after our second game, he shared that he had dreamt about playing chess.  As the days went by, he recalled that he had recently played chess …. and he even got to the point where he remembered how many times we had played together.

This experience was so enlightening to me. Over my three weeks at the Memory Club, my chess partner did more than “retrieve” what he knew from the past (i.e. chess technique), he also learned to remember his present and recent past.

Catherine Deletra 2016

My chess partner’s face gets illuminated when he plays and his thinking process is remarkable. I’m impressed by his strategy, his capacity to adapt, his ability to perceive what I’m doing and anticipate my moves. Being a witness to such a “miracle” means much more to me than the mere happiness I received: it is a tangible sign (if not a proof) that miracles can happen.

I wish to thank this gentleman with all my heart, as well as all the people with whom I’ve lived this fabulous experience, whether they are professionals or participants.

Katia, Switzerland, July 2016