The War on Corona: the Help Squad for Jerusalem’s Elderly
Last year Roee and Ari set up a volunteering unit to assist Jerusalem’s elderly with the help of Google Translate ⦁ They now utilize their network to help those struggling to cope with the pandemic
Moshe Weistuch | Israel Hayom | April 1, 2020
Photos taken before the ban on congregating in groups
The Corona virus, which has led to a global crisis, has placed millions of people in Israel at risk due to their age and forced them into isolation. An initiative of two Jerusalem teenagers from the Ramot neighborhood, which began exactly a year ago, has now become highly relevant. It has one goal – to care for the welfare of the older adults in the area and alleviate their loneliness.
“Last Purim our school initiated a volunteering project to make mishlo’ach manot and bring them to older adults in the neighborhood”, related Roee Dahan and Ari Aharon, eleventh grade students at Ohr Torah Stone’s Ariel high school, named after Jacob Sapirstein. The two met a Russian speaking older adult couple with whom they communicated using Google Translate.
“They were really waiting for us and were happy to meet us”, Roee remembers. “When we left the house we thought, ‘why are we only doing this when the school asks us to, don’t they need us throughout the year?’ So we decided to continue volunteering and even expand it by recruiting additional youth.”
They contacted the Community Administration and nursing homes in the neighborhood, prepared a presentation and explained the initiative they wanted to set up. “Everyone who heard the idea really liked it,” says Ari. “A few days later we had already created a WhatsApp group of volunteers.” In the initial stage fifteen volunteers joined the initiative, which was called Helping Older Adults in the Neighborhood. They were in touch with some seventy older adults, helping them purchase food and medicine, carrying out various household jobs, and holding conversations to alleviate the older adults’ loneliness.
Ari emphasizes that many older adults asked to be helped by the youth and were referred by the local welfare department. “We went shopping for them, helped an elderly man fix a part of his closet that had collapsed, worked in an elderly woman’s garden, while some older adults just wanted us to visit for conversation. One woman even spent an hour and a half relating the story of how she immigrated to Israel, pulling out documents to show us, and she also cooked us a meal. It was fascinating.”
The Corona crisis that engulfed us a few weeks ago caught many unprepared. Not so Ari and Roee, who already had a stable volunteering infrastructure in place, which only got bigger. The two youths’ high school principal, Rabbi Yuval Farjun, says that the educational staff and himself “encourage the students to be creative and take initiative and they sometimes come up with ideas that I’m surprised we didn’t think of ourselves.” He added, “the initiative to help older adults in the neighborhood began before the Corona crisis, and when it broke out they were already prepared.”
Ari says, “We drew up a table with the help of the Community Administration that included the details of 180 volunteers alongside 270 older adults that we assist.” The face to face visits have stopped, of course, in light of the situation, but the network of volunteers continues to help the older adults – with the Ministry of Health’s approval – by purchasing food and medicine which they leave outside the door. They also make sure that each older adult receives twice-weekly telephone calls in which the volunteers ask after their health and if there is anything they need.
One of the women assisted by this initiative is Miryam Rahimi, in her nineties, who crocheted a kipa for Roee as a mark of her appreciation and gratitude. “They are very good, sweet boys,” she told Israel Hayom. “They visited me when it was still possible. They help me a lot and I am very pleased with them. May God watch over them.”