The High Holy Days are a time for prayer and reflection, and for family gatherings. For many Jews, Rosh Hashanah dinners with other family members are a much-anticipated part of the holiday experience.
Sadly, this pleasure is not always available to everyone. Homebound elderly Jews without relatives in their immediate vicinity can find themselves in depressing isolation at what should be a joyous time of the year.
One of northern New Jersey’s leading Jewish senior care agencies is trying to address this problem. For the past two years, Rockleigh-based Jewish Home Family (JHF) has been delivering holiday meals to homebound Jewish seniors through its Jewish Home at Home program. During the High Holy Days, Passover and Hanukkah, Jewish Home at Home volunteers visit elderly residents in Hudson, Bergen, Passaic and Rockland Counties, lifting their spirits with the gift of a lovingly prepared, kosher repast.
“When we started this program for Hanukkah in 2011, about 35 to 40 people signed up,” says JHF President/CEO Charles “Chuck” Berkowitz. “But it kept growing, to the point where we expect to have almost 200 people for Rosh Hashanah this year.”
The meals are prepared at Jewish Home at Rockleigh, the senior residence operated by JHF, and distributed by community volunteers. Depending on how many seniors are on their route, they might pick up a few meals, or a cardboard box filled to the brim.
“For the most part, these are people who don’t have a support system,” says Berkowitz. “Either their family is not living in the area, or their kids are out of state, or they no longer have any close relatives. So we become that support system.”
The holiday meals project is an outgrowth of an existing kosher meals-on-wheels program which Jewish Home at Home operates year-round, in partnership with the JCC in Tenafly, the Y-JCC in Washington Township and Jewish Family Services offices in Fair Lawn and Wayne. The program aims to go beyond similar initiatives offered by other Jewish agencies (it also delivers Shabbat dinners to seniors who are unable to prepare their own).
“We had gotten calls from people about this,” explains Berkowitz. “The typical Meals on Wheels programs don’t deliver on weekends, and of course they close for the Jewish holidays. We’re open 24/7, 365 days a year. We’re the only place to turn to when the agencies where they typically go for their meals are closed.”
Jewish Home at Home has made a multipronged effort to publicize the meals program, from putting ads in area Jewish publications to contacting other Jewish agencies.
“We ask them to refer some of their people to us,” says Berkowitz, “people who get regular meals five days a week but wouldn’t have it for the holidays or the weekend. We’ve also reached out to area synagogues to say, ‘If you have anyone in your congregation or group who needs a holiday meal, and doesn’t have a family gathering to go to, we would be happy to provide it free of charge.’”
The meals programs are just two of the many services provided by Jewish Home at Home, which seeks to help seniors who live at home maintain their independence and quality of life. The program also assists elderly clients with transportation, medical treatment, bill paying and many other areas.
“With the continuum of care that we’ve established—from outpatient services to visiting nurse programs—we try to emphasize keeping seniors at home, happy and healthy for as long as possible before they might need to go into hospitals or other institutional settings,” says Berkowitz.
The holiday meals program in particular has brought great satisfaction to Berkowitz and his staff.
“We get a really wonderful response from the people who receive the meals—letters, phone calls,” he says. “It’s just a very nice thing to do, and we feel good about the responses we get from people.”
Anyone interested in joining the program as a client or a volunteer can call Pam Windmeyer at (201)750-4230 or e-mail cberkowitz_jewishhomefamily.org.
By Philip Berroll