Vulnerable and Isolated: A Whole New Meaning

One JDC staff member reflects on how the coronavirus pandemic has given her new insight into the plight faced by the elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union that JDC serves.

By Izzy Sakhaie - Campaign Specialist, JDC | June 8, 2020

During the coronavirus, a JDC homecare worker safely delivers a flower to a client, as well as food and medicine.

Right about now I should have been touching down in Saint Petersburg, Russia, for what was going to be my first time visiting the region. This wasn’t going to be just any sort of trip. Rather, I was headed there to witness the incredible work of JDC — the global Jewish 9-1-1.

For close to two years, I’ve worked for JDC at its New York headquarters, alongside 100 plus dedicated professionals and individuals who devote a majority of their waking hours to ensuring that vulnerable and isolated Jews around the world receive the lifesaving aid they depend on. 

Vulnerable and isolated. Over the past few months, these two words have taken on an entirely different meaning. Almost every single one of us falls into the latter category; and if we are not vulnerable ourselves, we probably have someone very close to us who is. 

Now, as I too sit isolated, in what was once “the city that never sleeps,” I cannot stop thinking about these elderly Jews in places like Saint Petersburg and elsewhere in the post-Soviet region. They are one of the most vulnerable and isolated populations that JDC serves. Before the pandemic, they relied on JDC’s support for food, medicine, and other critical aid, as well as a connection to a community — so important for people who, because of war and oppression, often have no family. To think how much more intensified their vulnerability and isolation has become during this time pains me.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I was supposed to be there with them right now. Visiting them side by side to let them know, or moreover, to assure them that they have someone to depend on, and to show them just how far their community reaches.

With new challenges came new solutions.

Instead, self-isolating has thrown the plight of those we serve into sharper relief. Can you imagine being trapped in your home for not weeks or months, but years on end, with no one by your side? For some of the elderly people JDC provides support to, this is their daily life. Their homecare worker is their only human interaction — their window to the outside world.

Because of this new and scary reality, there was a moment when it seemed like their homecare workers would no longer be able to visit. But we could not accept this option. For so long, they have depended on these individuals to bring them food, to help them get around the house, and to provide the basic human act of companionship. And so with new challenges came new solutions. 

Since the Covid-19 crisis began, JDC has mobilized to ensure these elderly continue receiving the lifesaving support they depend on. This has meant equipping homecare workers with the appropriate protective gear; providing transportation to the homes of the elderly they care for; and expanding hot lines, allowing volunteers to reach out to ask clients via phone to inquire about their well-being, as well as clients to call in when they need support.

While there is no clear end to our new reality — no certainty, no exact plan to follow — this time undoubtedly calls upon us to act better, stronger, and more unified than ever before. It is vital to note that even when this is all over, these elderly Jews will still be isolated and will most likely remain vulnerable. Now, while we have to pay heed to our own new challenges and vulnerabilities, we must remember that there are some who most literally cannot afford to be forgotten. 

How we act in this new reality is up to us. We can all begin by outstretching our hand a little farther than before — because while it may pain us, the pain being felt by arguably the most vulnerable, the most isolated, is far beyond what we can imagine. 

Izzy Sakhaie is Campaign Specialist in JDC’s Resource Development Department. She has worked at JDC for two years.

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