By Nicole Hawkins
When James Riddlesperger told the PrimeTimers group he was going to speak about President Donald Trump’s recent national emergency declaration, he heard grumbling and laughter.
Although it was a divisive topic, the TCU political science professor knew it was important to discuss with the monthly meeting of seniors at Fort Worth’s Beth-El Congregation.
The U.S.-Mexico border wall, 2020 elections and former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke’s future were only a few of the many topics discussed at PrimeTimers’ Wednesday meeting.
Jackie Bzostek, coordinator of PrimeTimers, said the group was founded in 2002 out of a “stated need” for community and programming from seniors who had free time during the day. It is a program of Beth-El Congregation with support from the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County.
Bzostek said her goal since taking the helm of the group last year is “to provide an environment that’s upbeat and pleasant and comfortable.”
The persistent laughter and chit-chat heard among attendees, and the pristine tablecloths and baby’s breath displayed on each table, showed the fruits of Bzostek’s labor.
This month’s speaker was award-winning political science professor and frequent political contributor to state and national news outlets, James Riddlesperger.
“I’m kind of glad to talk to people who remember the ’60s and ’70s,” Riddlesperger, who has taught at TCU since 1982, said during his speech. “My students don’t even remember Bill Clinton as president.”
Bzostek said members of PrimeTimers represent a wide range of opinions, political affiliations and backgrounds.
“My vision for (PrimeTimers) has been to provide a variety of programs for different people,” Bzostek said.
“(It’s) always a very eclectic group,” Beth-El member and former colleague of Riddlesperger’s, Karen Anisman, said.
Speakers in the past have included authors, fine arts professors and rabbis.
Board member of PrimeTimers, Edythe Cohen, said Riddlesperger’s speech made her realize that members of the group need to “get involved” in politics.
“None of us are active enough,” Cohen said.
“Judaism calls us to do what we can to make the world a better place,” Bzostek said. “Sometimes politically there are opportunities to do things that make that happen.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, an attendee asked Riddlesperger his opinion on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s recent remarks that have been characterized as anti-semitic by many politicians and citizens throughout the country.
“She has a steep learning curve,” Riddlesperger responded.
However, Riddlesperger said that, as he saw it, “it wasn’t necessarily anti-Semitic, it was anti-AIPAC.”
“We need to tone down our rhetoric and we need to talk with each other,” Riddlesperger said.
Attendee Ray Brown, who has degrees in political science and history, said he continues to learn about society beyond his formal education, which is why he came to PrimeTimers’ most recent meeting.
“I still have a lot to learn,” Brown said.
Bzostek said if seniors in the community have a suggestion for a speaker at an upcoming meeting they’re welcome to attend and join the planning committee.
The next PrimeTimers meeting will take place at noon March 20 at Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth.