Posted by Jon Federman
In Part I of this story, we learned about the decline of the Jewish community in Roxbury and Dorchester in the 1960’s. In Part II, we see how JF&CS responded to complaints from aging citizens in these neighborhoods.
In response to numerous complaints from the aging citizens of the Roxbury-Dorchester communities, JF&CS entered into collaboration with the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for the Aged (HRCA) to address these complaints in early 1969. A research team was gathered and elderly residents of the communities were interviewed as part of the “Roxbury Dorchester Elderly Project.”
To start the project, JF&CS used an outreach model because older adults would not be likely to ask for assistance due to lack of information or because they were too proud. HRCA and JF&CS staff canvassed the neighborhoods, interviewed the at-risk elderly, and referred the appropriate cases to JF&CS for casework and services. Five full-time caseworkers were assigned to the project.
The JF&CS/HRCA crew quickly assessed the needs of the elders. They determined that the most urgent needs were assistance with shopping and transportation. Due to their diminished strength, as well as the lack of suitable grocery stores within walking distance, many elders had great difficulty getting food into their apartments. Alarmingly, many elders had been physically attacked in the hallways of their own buildings and were afraid to go out.
Within weeks, a van was purchased for the project and JF&CS volunteers took elders to go food shopping, helping them carry bundles into their apartments without fear of violence. Volunteers also took elders to medical appointments.
Once these basic needs had been addressed, the focus turned to the elder’s psychological needs to counter their feelings of isolation. Recreational activities, such as beach and theater trips, card games, art exhibits, Bingo, Chanukkah parties, Passover Seders, and even a choral group were organized by JF&CS staff in collaboration with the Sisterhood group of Temple Mishkan Tefila of Newton. Men’s and women’s discussion groups were initiated, with JF&CS facilitators. A JF&CS representative even met with the local Stop and Shop to see about expanding the kosher food section in light of the fact that most kosher grocers in the area had closed.
As most local synagogues had moved out to the suburbs, elders were left with nowhere to go for religious services.
Arrangements were made by JF&CS staff with the director of a local School of Fine Arts, once a prominent local synagogue, to hold High Holiday services in the school’s library. JF&CS also organized weekly services in an unused local public housing recreation hall, after lengthy negotiations with the Boston Housing Authority (BHA). Temple youth groups and sisterhood groups volunteered to provide religious services and entertainment at these locations. Local university work study students, along with one of the JF&CS caseworkers, implemented a “friendly visitor” volunteer program to counteract the feelings of loneliness and isolation experienced by many elders.
Find out what else JF&CS was able to do for these vulnerable elders in Part III of this story, appearing next week.
Jon Federman is the JF&CS Staff Writer. A practicing attorney for more than 15 years, he is thrilled to bring his legal and persuasive writing skills to the JF&CS Marketing Communications department. Jon has a BA from Tufts University and a JD from Boston College Law School. In his spare time he is an exhibiting photographer and an award-winning cartoonist. Jon lived in London, England for five years before returning to Boston in 2011.