In the Middle of War, Prioritizing the Emotional & Physical Healing of Israel’s Elderly

Discover how JDC is caring for Israel's elderly in the midst of war — and giving them hope for a more peaceful future.

By Era Ben Amo Argaman - Director, Day Center for the Elderly; Brosh, Israel | February 6, 2024

Era Ben Amo Argaman (far left) checks in with an elderly woman at her home near Brosh, Israel — a part of JDC's "Supportive Community" program for senior Israelis.

Just a few miles from the Gaza Strip, the day center for the elderly in tiny Brosh, Israel, provides critical services and rich Jewish programming to the community it serves. In this post, Era Ben Amo Argaman — the center’s director — describes the horrors of October 7th — and how, with JDC’s support, she’s helped the elderly she works with stay strong in the wake of catastrophe. 

Amo Argaman (second from left) spends time with members of the day center for the elderly.

Imagine an elderly person who doesn’t have a safe room — who has nowhere to hide. The siren sounds and they have 30 seconds to rush to the most secure place possible. All they can do is remain where they are, praying that the rockets won’t strike them.

Since October 7th, this hypothetical situation has been the daily reality for so many elderly people here in Israel. And that’s precisely why I do the work I do — managing the senior center here in Brosh, a small moshav not far from Ofakim and the Gaza Strip.

My work has two parts. First, there is the day center itself, which operates all year round, five days a week. We serve breakfast and lunch, as well as a mid-morning snack. We are with the members at all times, keeping them busy with fun and meaningful activities.

Not everyone can make it to the day center, and even those that do sometimes need at-home care. That’s where the second part of my work comes in — “Supportive Community,” the JDC program that sends around 40 volunteers in the area to care for homebound elderly. These volunteers keep in touch with our seniors by phone or go to their homes and help them with things they need. 

The members who come to the center are residents of three moshavim in this area, and they’ve been through a lot in their lives. Some of them have mobility issues, some have age-related health issues, and some have dementia. We do all that we can to help them, in any way that we can. 

On October 6th, everything felt normal. It’s eerie now to look back and realize there was no sign of the impending tragedy.

On that black Saturday, there were terrorists near the kibbutz where I live — Bror Hayil, not far from Brosh. We sheltered in our homes and were careful not to go outside — all of us were trapped, worried sick about family and friends. We started making calls to the members of the day center to ask how they were doing, all while still thinking about our own loved ones. Many people we know were murdered.

As soon as we could, my partner Daisy and I left the kibbutz. We stayed with my son in Herzliya. But even when I was there, I didn’t abandon our elderly. I worked nonstop, calling all of our seniors to see if they were OK. It was pure chaos, but everyone who needed help received it. And three days later, I felt a pull in my soul and came back. 

Members enjoy activities at the the day center for the elderly.

The center itself was closed for a week. We had no other choice. I wanted all of us to feel safer before expecting people to leave their homes. I didn’t even always feel safe enough to come here –– there were lots of rockets flying overhead and constant sirens on my commute.

But as difficult as it was for me and my staff, it was exponentially harder for the elderly. Most of them don’t have safe rooms and they live in very old houses. We have a minibus that transports the elderly to the center. But if a siren sounded, they wouldn’t be able to get off the minibus in time. Everything was so complicated, logistically and emotionally. 

Here on the moshav, a miracle saved everyone: All of the members of our center survived. But everyone here is worried about someone else — we all know people serving in the army or called up to the reserves.

When the elderly are here, I know they’re more protected. We have a safe room where we do as many activities as we can, and even when we can’t and the siren sounds, the safe room is just a few feet away. We close the doors as fast as possible.

And I’m always the last one in.

We are in the middle of a war, which is all the more reason to bring joy to our members. They need it. We do fun activities here — things that distract them from the conflict. The fact that they’re together gives them a lot of strength.

They strengthen me, too, and keep my mind off all the bad things that are happening. 

And if it wasn’t for JDC, we wouldn’t be able to have all of these projects. They help us to fulfill our dreams. They train people like me to deliver the best service possible to our members. We wouldn’t be able to do anything without them. 

We are in the middle of a war, which is all the more reason to bring joy to our members. They need it.

The elderly need this center and they need “Supportive Community,” especially now. Each day, they wait for the doors to open so that they can come and meet each other. They are alone in their homes. And even if they have someone who cares for them, they still need each other — they still need the support of their peers. 

The activities are less important than the fact they are together. It literally lengthens their lives. It gives them a longer life expectancy because they have something to look forward to. To leave them alone in their homes is just to bury them faster.

Our seniors have found a permanent place in my heart. They give me more than I give them, filling me up. Step into our center and it’s immediately clear that this is where they belong — happy, safe, and together.

Era Ben Amo Argaman is manager of the day center for the elderly in Brosh, and coordinates JDC’s “Supportive Community” for three moshavim in Israel’s South. 

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