Vera* is a Holocaust survivor who grew up in Vienna, Austria and came to the US in 1947. Other than her daughter, she has only a single living relative – a cousin in Israel. She and her husband have been married 57 years and live in a town in southern Massachusetts known for its large Catholic community. So every Chanukkah and Passover, Vera, 87, and her loving husband, 89, make the long drive to JF&CS Headquarters in Waltham to enjoy the meals, prayers, and rituals of her childhood.
These celebrations, made possible through the generosity of the George and Beatrice Sherman Family Charitable Trust, are hosted by the JF&CS Friendly Visitor Program, a program of Jewish Healing Connections. The Friendly Visitor Program matches seniors with caring volunteers for weekly visits. For many elderly Jews in Greater Boston, the gatherings are an opportunity to come together as a community and to connect with each other and the next generation. Vera and her husband have never missed a Friendly Visitor holiday event.
“We went to my grandparents’ house for Passover until Hitler came and everything changed,” she said. “[At JF&CS] I enjoy the service and to be together with Jewish people. Where I live there are very few. It’s like family to me. I feel good when I go there. I feel a connection.”
At each celebration, Friendly Visitor clients are joined by elders from other JF&CS programs, volunteers, JF&CS Board Members, Jewish Healing Connections Advisory Council members, and JF&CS staff and their children. Volunteers include the JF&CS Young Professionals and students from the Boston College Jewish Law Student Association. In addition, Manginah, Brandeis' co-ed Jewish a cappella group, performed at this year’s Chanukkah celebration, and we were delighted to collaborate with Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly at our recent Passover Seder.
“We have an amazing group of volunteers and guests who help create an intergenerational experience. The event is not just focused on the elders but on the loving and warm interaction between elders and staff members, volunteers, kids, and college students,” said Sue Spielman, MPA, Friendly Visitor Program Coordinator. “Everyone sits together and talks with each other. It’s much more like a family gathering.”
Alan Greenfield of Needham has partnered with five elders over his eleven years as a Friendly Visitor volunteer. At their weekly lunches out, he and his current elder catch up on each other’s lives. They have also attended the JF&CS Passover celebration. “The Seder harkens back memories from [my elder’s] childhood. These are quite meaningful to him. He’s not a social person but he enjoys these celebrations, especially the food,” Alan said with a smile.
Now in their eighth year, these celebrations have evolved from a small group of elders and their visitors to a gathering of 80 to 100 people of all ages. “We are creating a caring community that many elders come back to year after year. I’m amazed at the impact we’ve had on people’s lives,” said Sue.
For more information, call 781-647-JFCS (5327) or email your questions via our contact us page.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
Read more articles from JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2013.