Project 'Gett Chesed'
a response to loneliness epidemic
Project 'Gett Chesed'
The Bindy and David Koadlow Gett Chesed Project; Jerusalem
Loneliness is a painful issue. Studies show a link between emotional or social loneliness—and neglect, increased morbidity, depression, and a host of other life-threatening conditions. A verse in Genesis aptly sums it up: “It is not good for man to be alone.” As bad as this is for people of any age and stage, it is far more severe for seniors.
For years, Colel Chabad has placed an emphasis on combating loneliness through their work with the senior demographic. Dining rooms host the lonely and isolated daily; empathetic and sensitive volunteers hand-deliver hot meals across Israel; “Day centers” have been established in several locations, with a focus on senior citizens, with cultural programs alongside hot meals, every day.
Along with the devastating rise of the pandemic, the plague of loneliness worsened in unheard-of proportions. Protecting seniors living alone meant keeping them isolated even more than before. Even those with children and grandchildren weren’t able to have them over. Holidays were spent all alone. Those who were usually embraced by their communities and families who eased the isolation, now found themselves in quarantine.
Anyone who works with seniors can attest to the merciless effects of extreme loneliness, a debilitating isolation with real-life consequences for more and more seniors. We cannot remain apathetic in the face of this reality.
Project ‘Gett Chesed’
Colel Chabad’s social services arm, in conjunction with Chabad Youth and Chabad on Campus, developed a program to alleviate loneliness among Israel’s senior population.
Colel Chabad’s four decades of experience in the field provided the know-how and expertise, while Chabad Youth and Chabad on Campus bring in the manpower, with teens and students lending their youthful vigor and caring smile.
What will begin as local, grassroots initiatives bring results. The joy and gratitude, along with the positive effect on their health only proved the vital importance of the project. Soon, more branches will join, recruiting more teens and students to volunteer for “Project Get Chesed.”
“An army marches on its stomach,” Napoleon observed. A hearty meal is the basis of each program. Colel Chabad feeds thousands of elderly, isolated, and lonely men and women each day. The nutritional value of these meals allows them to get through the rest of their day safely. Get Chesed’s programs begin before Shabbat when volunteers arrive at homes with fresh challah and tasty Shabbat meals.
This is just the beginning. With the door open, a personal relationship forms. Food is a pretext; the caring concern and interest in the life of a lonely senior is the main objective. The volunteers get to know and befriend them, introducing them to a wide array of programming and opportunities that would not have been possible without their new friends.
Volunteers sit and listen, display interest in their lives, and share anecdotes of their own lives. Objective: to ease the feelings of loneliness they experience and give them tools to manage isolation.
While technology leaps forward, seniors are often left behind, especially lonely ones. Various resources designed to improve their lives are beyond their reach and technical abilities. The young volunteers aim to bridge the gap and assist them with using modern technology. This also helps with the neglect they often experience, as they now have someone to assist them with managing their various benefits and navigating bureaucratic hurdles.
When a lonely senior has a special day, their isolation is intensified. They miss their loved ones who they used to celebrate with and long for the experiences of the past. The past cannot be brought back, but the meaning most certainly can.
Volunteers visit and celebrate the following day with “their” elder:
- Commemorative dates; yahrtzeits
- Jewish holidays.
Volunteers bring a holiday package for each holiday’s theme: a jar of honey for Rosh Hashanah, a menorah and candles for Chanukah, Purim gifts, matzah for Passover, etc.
Listen and Learn:
Elders want to be heard. Loneliness is accompanied by fear of being forgotten; fear that nobody will remember them and their childhood experiences and later accomplishments, their values and opinions. Volunteers give a listening ear to their life stories, look at their photographs and show interest in their artifacts and heirlooms.
Volunteers take elders out for fresh air, stretch their legs and stroll the neighborhood.
Things break and age at home. Whether household items or clothes, volunteers will make sure everything is in working order, greatly uplifting the elders’ spirits.
Medication and essentials
When necessary, volunteers will pick up and replenish medication from the pharmacy or other essentials.
When appropriate, volunteers will cook their favorite foods together.
The overall objective of every visit and program is to alleviate the loneliness, give sincere attention and a listening ear and ultimately, restore the elders’ dignity and respect.