While volunteering at JDC’s volunteer center in Chișinău, Moldova, Eva Baboi made a friend that changed her life for the better. In this reflection, Eva thinks about intergenerational friendship in the time of COVID-19, and how volunteerism brought her closer to Jewish life.
There are so many ways that Moldova is unique. One reason is that, for as many people who need help, there are just as many people willing to help.
I guess I’m the latter.
I came to JDC’s volunteer center thanks to a chance encounter I had one day while walking down a street in Chișinău, my home city. I overheard two strangers talking about the volunteer center, and I was captivated. It was as if they knew who I was, that I’d want to join. After listening to them, I become a volunteer.
More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m still here, volunteering with the Jewish community — helping some of the most vulnerable people in my city and getting closer to my own roots.
Two of my great-grandfathers were Jewish. Unfortunately, they died in the Holocaust, so I never got to know them. Still, my family’s history lives through my work at the volunteer center. By helping others, I have rediscovered my own Jewish past.
When I joined, I began participating in programs dedicated to Jewish tradition, which helped me to learn about what my family had lost. I connected with programs like “Shabbat Guest,” which brings Jewish holiday celebrations to homebound elderly Jewish clients of our city’s JDC-supported Hesed social welfare center. And through the “Origins of Mercy” project, I deepened my volunteering with elderly Jews.
Origins of Mercy intrigued me because it matches volunteers with elderly clients. I wanted to speak to and learn from someone who was older than me, as I knew that, despite the years between us, we could share so much. The point of this initiative was to cultivate intergenerational friendship: People of different ages can teach each other a lot.
That’s how I met Raya Issakovna.
Though she’s old enough to be my grandmother, Raya is more similar to me than she might seem at first glance. Before COVID-19, we would meet in person, and our conversations are always riveting. Rather than endless discussions about pills, clinics, and back pain, we would talk about current events, movies, TV shows, and even online shopping.
Raya is a former computer programmer, and so we’d talk a lot about the internet. I don’t know very much about programming, but I’ve learned a lot from Raya.
When the pandemic struck, Raya and I had to be more careful. Now we meet virtually, through a screen.
Though nothing can replace face-to-face contact, technology has its benefits. With a tablet, I can chat with people from other countries and learn new things. And I talk with Raya as much as I did before the pandemic.
Humans need each other, so we adapt. I’m grateful for the ways that JDC has adapted, too, through the JOINTECH project that has brought technology specially designed for the elderly to clients like Raya — enabling them to stay connected to community life and to volunteer programs like mine.
The only problem with virtual conversation is that sometimes a poor internet connection will disrupt it. Otherwise, thanks to cameras and microphones, it’s as if we’re in the same room.
Like I said, Moldova’s Jewish community is unique. Everyone can find a home here, and everyone has a place.
JDC has allowed me to find my own place. By volunteering, I’ve rediscovered my Jewish past, and myself.
JDC has allowed me to find my own place. By volunteering, I’ve rediscovered my Jewish past — and myself in the process. Giving back has become a core part of my life, and my passion for it will never go away.
I hope that the virus will soon subside. When it does, Raya and I will meet again in person, as we once did. She is sophisticated, beautiful, and our discussions always make me feel more alive, especially now, when we’re still so isolated.
I look forward to that day, and I thank JDC for making our unlikely and beautiful friendship possible.
Eva Baboi, 17, has been a JDC volunteer for two years. A tourism student in Chișinău, Eva is passionate about drawing and also works as a tattoo artist.