Fighting Israeli Elderly’s Coronavirus Loneliness with Socially Distanced “Parties”

In the face of coronavirus, JDC and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation have organized a series of socially distant parties in Israel, bringing happiness and joy to isolated elderly.

By Sofia Borisov - Program Manager, JDC-Eshel | August 14, 2020

JDC-organized “parties” (a partnership with The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation) bring happiness and joy to the elderly and improve their quality of life.

In 17 years at JDC, working on our initiatives for elderly Israelis, I’ve always tried to innovate our programs, ensuring that what we were offering met the needs of the population we were serving.

Sofia Borisov.

The coronavirus pandemic forced us to put that into hyper-drive.

For years, I’ve been coordinating a JDC program — in partnership with and thanks to the generosity of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation — that alleviates loneliness for elderly Israelis in nursing homes and day centers by providing them with musical and theatrical performances. We offered everything from plays and musicals to singers performing in Hebrew, Spanish, and often, Russian — as many of our beneficiaries are Russian-speaking Israelis. Through these “parties,” as we call them, we try to bring happiness and joy to the elderly and improve their quality of life. The most important thing is that they know we care about them and that they are not alone.

In the middle of March, we were required to stop our programming due to the lockdown, but after a few weeks, we retooled it, adapting it to the current situation, and relaunched it as “balcony parties.” Now, artists visit the day centers or nursing homes and residents gather in a socially distant way in the garden or other outdoor space. In places where that’s not possible, or where there are too many residents, the elderly can also stand at their windows or sit on their balconies to enjoy the show.

Since we launched the balcony parties, we’ve reached 11,000 people all over Israel through 220 performances. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, this program was significant for nursing home residents, but now that the elderly are more isolated than ever, it’s even more important and effective.

Since we launched the balcony parties, we’ve reached 11,000 people all over Israel through 220 performances.

The other program I coordinate — in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Social Equality and Ministry of Aliyah and Integration — centers on preparing Russian speakers who are pre-retirement for the next chapter of their lives. There, too, the pandemic has changed my work by 180 degrees. Before the coronavirus, I drove 2,000 kilometers a month, running seminars all over Israel. Today, I don’t leave my home in Ashdod, running everything on Zoom and Teams and spending more time on the telephone than ever before.

Our seminars stem from the idea that many people will have 20 to 30 more years left to live after they retire and many of them aren’t prepared for the challenges and opportunities of that next stage of life. We teach our students about things like relating to their children as a retiree, budgeting and making sure their finances are in good order, and changing their routines in the absence of a daily job. 

Performers visit day centers or nursing homes and residents gather in a socially distant way in the garden or other outdoor space.

During the pandemic, we’ve found ourselves holding the seminars more frequently. Many people are afraid to retire because of Israel’s economic situation, but after our program — seven 90-minute sessions — they feel much more secure and gain new knowledge.

I came to Israel with my family from St. Petersburg in 1991, and my education in Russia was in engineering and mathematics. But over the years, I realized how much I loved to work with people, and I gravitated toward healthcare opportunities. I found the JDC job by happenstance — the classifieds in the newspaper — but now I’m very proud to work here. I really feel like I hit the jackpot!

Every day, I can see the results of my work — programs that better the lives of the elderly. The way I see it, that’s JDC’s role in Israel, too: to make lives better for so many marginalized communities. It’s as simple and as profound as that, and I’m so honored to be part of it.

Sofia Borisov is a program manager at JDC-Eshel, the division of our Israel operations that works with the elderly.

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