December 9, 2023
December 9, 2023

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Volunteers Help Seniors Celebrate Chanukah

The Jewish Home at Rockleigh and Jewish Home Assisted Living in River Vale are having parties and nightly menorah lighting so residents can enjoy a happy, festive Chanukah. They will also reach out to Bergen County seniors living alone to provide a hot, kosher Chanukah meal. Volunteers are making it all happen.

On December 22, the first night of Chanukah, Evan Cohen, youth committee chair at Teaneck’s Netivot Shalom, will bring approximately 25 3- to 8-year-olds and their parents to the Jewish Home at Rockleigh for a party with residents. Cohen said he wanted to begin introducing children to chesed activities in an age-appropriate way. After connecting with a friend who works at Rockleigh, he thought taking the children there for an inter-generational Chanukah party would be the perfect start. They’ll be making cards for the residents, doing arts and crafts together, singing songs and sharing donuts and latkes. Cohen is hoping the residents will open up and tell the children their life stories. “This is an opportunity to connect the generations and bring joy to others,” said Cohen. “And hopefully this will inspire the children to continue doing chesed as they get older.”

On December 23, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) has its annual Chanukah breakfast party with the residents. Coffee, donuts and entertainment are on the menu along with socializing and gifts from Federation.

That’s also the day volunteer drivers will be delivering over 300 Chanukah meals to Bergen County seniors who live alone. Holiday Meals-on-Wheels are delivered for Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Passover. The program has been in place for over 10 years, funded by JFNNJ. “All the food is made at the Jewish Home with love,” said Stacey Orden, director of volunteer services and Safely@Home. The Chanukah menu will consist of grape juice, matzah ball soup, brisket, latkes, green beans with pimento, dinner rolls, chocolate Chanukah gelt, and a special treat baked by the residents of the Jewish Home Assisted Living. The residents will bake 325 desserts in the kitchen, with the help of kitchen staff. “They know the food they are baking is being brought to the elderly in the community,” said Orden. “It’s a nice chesed project.”

Orden said the delivery provides an indirect way to check on seniors living alone. “We give the volunteer drivers a survey. If they are invited inside, they look around and make sure things look okay in the home. If we see a red flag on the survey, the Jewish Home @HomeCare agency follows up. We’re concerned about the well-being of all seniors in the community.”

Dennis Gralla, a former Teaneck resident now living in Mahwah, is a Jewish Home board member and volunteer driver, who grew up with the Jewish Home at Rockleigh. His parents were philanthropists who helped raise money for the building and he’s part of the next generation continuing their work. “I enjoy taking time out of the day, not just to deliver, but to meet people and try to engage them, to put smiles on their faces,” he said. Gralla became very close to one couple, gone now, whom he “adopted” as his grandparents. Both had medical problems and little more than each other. “To really connect with people and make a difference is a great feeling,” he said.

Wendy King of Old Tappan has been a volunteer driver for Holiday Meals on Wheels for 12 years. She began volunteering after coming to the Jewish Home to visit her grandfather when he was there in rehab. She thought delivering holiday meals would be a great activity for her daughter and others in the girl scout troop she led, to teach values away from the social angst that can wear down girls going into middle school. The troop also became close to some of the people to whom they brought meals. One shared garlic and tomatoes with them that he grew in his garden. “The girls saw that it wasn’t depressing; it was a wonderful thing to do and it made them feel wonderful about themselves,” said King. Even the people who just took the meals and closed the door taught them a lesson. “Each person has their own level of privacy and that’s okay, too,” she said. King showed the girls how to use the evaluation forms given to drivers. “They learned to look around, even if a person just opened the door and took the food. And if it seemed that some really needed help, I would call [the Jewish Home] and tell them what we observed and that we were concerned.” Many times, King and her group made return visits and saw that the problems had been corrected. Now she and her 16-year-old son deliver meals to just a few regulars, so they can spend time together.

Orden is recruiting volunteers to assist with many activities on December 25 at both the Jewish Home at Rockleigh and Jewish Home Assisted Living in River Vale. Volunteers are needed for the “Kindness Rock” project to help residents paint inspirational messages on rocks that will be permanent reminders to remain positive, and will be placed in the Jewish Home’s garden. At the Jewish Home, volunteers are needed to deliver cookies and gifts to the residents, and help them attend a concert in the afternoon. “The first 100 volunteers will get a t-shirt,” said Orden. “It’s a beautiful day here. We try to make it joyous and memorable for the residents.” Last year over 100 volunteers helped out. Orden said community, school and synagogue groups usually call and ask to participate.

Throughout Chanukah, there will be services and menorah lighting every day at 4:00 p.m. for residents and their families. “We always need help with transport of residents,” said Orden. “Our synagogue is on the first floor and most residents are on the second floor.

Anyone interested in volunteering to deliver Chanukah meals, or assist with residents, should call Stacey Orden at 201-518-1175. If you, or someone you know, needs a meal delivered, call Orden by December 16.

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