“Community Parents” Bring Israeli Elderly Vital Support

August 8, 2012


“There are a lot of things I cannot do on my own anymore,” says 89-year-old Yeshayahu. “Sometimes the electricity goes out or my wife needs medical help. It’s very important for us to know we have someone to count on.”

JDC’s Supportive Communities enable elderly Israelis, especially those struggling on low incomes, like Yeshayahu and his wife of nearly 40 years, Natasha, 85, to remain safely and independently in their own homes as they age. Through “Community Parents” who maintain regular contact, complete repairs, and provide critical support to community members, the program helps to meet the social, health, and safety needs of tens of thousands of aging Israelis who are eager to “age in place” rather than in institutions.

For Yeshayahu and Natasha, who have no children or other family to provide them the care they need as they age, their Supportive Father, Vladimir, is “a gift from God who helps us every day.” He enables them to continue living together in the familiarity and comfort of their home, independently—something that means the world to this strong, proud couple.

Yeshayahu left Transnistria for Mandate Palestine in 1948 as part of the Aliyah Bet. Detained en route by British soldiers and held in a detention camp, upon release, Yeshayahu headed straight to Jerusalem to be reunited with his brother, who had fled Europe a decade earlier.

Almost immediately, Yeshayahu joined the military forces to fight in the War of Independence. He fought for Israel in four other wars throughout his life.

But his service and “fight” didn’t stop there. Yeshayahu went to work with young volunteers from other countries, coordinating visits to kibbutzim and helping initiate the Youth and Pioneers department for the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Though “later” in life, Yeshayahu was smitten by Natasha, a mechanical engineer who emigrated from Moscow in the 1970s and serendipitously became Yeshayahu’s neighbor. They married.

On this particular morning, Vladimir is repairing the couple’s oven, saving them 550 shekels, a sizeable sum for the two pensioners. “He helps us all the time with light bulbs, plumbing, and regular repairs because I have a bad back,” Yeshayahu explains. “If we need anything he is at our home within 30 minutes.”

Vladimir, who is a certified electrician and worked as a mechanical engineer for many years, has always dreamed of working with elderly people. He services over 200 families in the building complex and is on call around the clock, “so even in the middle of the night he is reachable,” Natasha says, demonstrating the 24-hour emergency call button on her wall and her emergency call bracelet.

Community Parents like Vladimir are part of the JDC’s Supportive Community continuum of services, which also includes 24/7 emergency call systems in every apartment, home visits by physicians, and social activities to help the elderly combat isolation. Established by JDC and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, the program is active today in over 270 communities throughout Israel, each with up to 220 households and effectively serving over 50,000 elderly.

Coincidentally, Vladimir is from the same city in Ukraine where Yeshayahu lived in a ghetto during the war. Other members of the neighborhood he works with today are immigrants from throughout the former Soviet Union, Morocco, Iran, and Argentina, alongside native Israelis, both Arab and Jewish.

“From early in the morning I get calls from people with different needs. I repair whatever needs fixing, talk with them, and if and when they are no longer able to live on their own, help I them find their next home where they can get more support,” Vladimir explains.

His dependability is a hallmark of the Supportive Communities program across Israel. “We are so grateful for this safety net and for all of Vladimir’s help. There are so many people who need ‘a Vladimir’ in their lives,” Natasha says. “He enables us to live independently in our home and we know he is a life-saver to many, too.”

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