By Nechama Dina Reinitz
This Tishrei I was struck by the lengths that one individual went in order to help an older adult feel the joy of Yom Tov.
It was hakofos on the night of Shmini Atseres. The energy in the small Crown Heights shul was electric. Men danced around the bimah with children on their shoulders. The Sifrei Torah at the center of the festivities, were carefully passed around the dancing crowd. The women sat close by watching the scene, tapping their feet, chatting to friends while attending to their children’s needs. Children darted in and out of the crowd, clutching onto their paper bags, overflowing with nosh galore.
Amidst the fast paced excitement, was a scene so beautiful and touching, that I felt compelled to share. I observed an older man who was hunched over hugging a Torah, while leaning into the supportive arms of a man behind him. The man behind him had his arms securely wrapped around the older man and the Torah. The pair ever so slowly shuffled their way around the circle, slowing the pace of the dancing. The older man’s face shone with pride and joy as he clutched onto the Torah. The memory of this heart-warming scene is one that I will always treasure.
As the dancing continued inside, a thunderstorm was raging outside. The hour was late. The older man had to go home. The man who had helped him dance went out into the storm twice to help the older man and his wife get home. He escorted them both home with the wheelchair, one at a time, in the pouring rain, and then returned to shul to continue dancing with his own children.
I had seen this man wheel the older man home many times before and assumed that he was his hired aide. I was surprised to find out that this man, a busy father was a volunteer who helped out every Shabbos because he saw that it was needed. Not only did this man help an older man to continue to be an active member in his shul, and feel the joy of Yom Tov. He also modeled for his children the importance of supporting the frail and elderly in the community. It is heartening to see the devotion that this man showed to his neighbor. However, not all older adults have someone to offer this level of care.
It is easier to find programs in Crown Heights that focus on the chinuch of children, then on the needs of the older residents in our community. Living in our fast paced society, it is easy to get caught up and not notice the needs of those who are moving more slowly.
Many older adults choose to maintain their independence and continue to live in their home. Informal or professional assistance may be required as age related symptoms become more complex and difficult for older adults to manage. Taking care of an older adult, being their caregiver, is a fulfilling but often stressful task. Caregivers are often burdened with multiple stressors of balancing the care of aging parents with their own needs as well as other commitments. These may include caring for their children, possibly even grandchildren too. There are some older adults who are quite isolated with limited or no support at all. The Crown Heights community has only limited programs for older adults that are available during the weekday and no support for caregivers. With limited options on Shabbos and Yom Tov, how are older adults in need of assistance able to feel the joy of Shabbos and Yom Tov?
As a social work intern in Heights & Hills, I have become aware of the need for additional services for older people who live in Crown Heights. Heights & Hills is a non-profit community agency, serving adults aged 60 and older. The agency is funded by New York City’s Department For The Aging (DFTA) and offers a variety of free services to older adults and care giving related assistance to their family. If you know of any older adults in the community, or caregivers of older adults who live Crown Heights, who may need assistance please let them know that these services are available to them. Caregiver services are even available to those who are providing long distance care giving. Feel free to search us online at www.heightsandhills.org or we can be contacted at [email protected] / (718) 596 8789. For those who are looking to obtain services through the agency, please mention that you heard about this program through this article.
One of the many services offered at Heights & Hills is an extensive volunteer program. However, in an ongoing effort to meet the needs of the Crown Heights community it is important to note that we are in need of frum volunteers. Trying to find volunteers, particularly males, has been extremely difficult. Bikur Cholim is consumed with attending to all the needs of families who are experiencing medical crises. They do not have the resources to handle the ongoing needs of the older population.
As a resident of Crown Heights I am reaching out to you the members of my community in the hope that we can work together to enhance the lives of older adults who may be lonely or require minimal assistance, such as changing a light bulb. If you are interested in volunteering please contact Betsy Guttmacher the volunteer coordinator at Heights & Hills at, [email protected] or call (718) 596 8789.
Heights & Hills will be hosting an informational session for Crown Heights’ residents, this Tuesday, February 17th, at Chevrah Ahavas Yisroel Shul, 306 Albany Avenue (between Eastern Pkwy and Lincoln Place). Please note this date, and pass along the information to anyone who you thing may benefit from this information. If anyone is interested in starting a Crown Heights division of Smile On a Senior (SOS), as found in many Chabad houses, feel free to contact me at (718) 596 8789 so that I can pass on the information to Jewish clients from Crown Heights.