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The Blessing of Joy

August 7, 2018

Of the hundreds of projects that The Fellowship supports throughout Israel, those that help the elderly have always been closest to my heart. The people we help are heroes of the past – many of them Holocaust survivors, former soldiers who fought in Israel’s first wars, individuals who helped establish and build up Israel, and others who escaped countries of persecution in order to build a new life in the Holy Land.

I am so grateful to God that The Fellowship has become their family and is able to bring these holy people comfort and lifesaving aid in their final phase of life, especially those who have no one else to care for them.

Recently I went to visit a Fellowship-supported elderly club. This might not sound like “lifesaving aid,” but for most of the elderly who faithfully arrive each day, it is.

On the day of my visit, there were about 25 women, aged 70 and up, who had come to the club for the day. From the outside, these women looked like any other group their age. But as I got to know them, I learned that each one had an extraordinary story to tell of struggle and faith.

Rachel came to Israel on her own from Tunisia in her seventies. Hava escaped Iran on horseback, and it was nothing less than a miracle that she made it to Israel. Rena came from Turkey to realize her dream of living in Israel.

What all these women from such diverse backgrounds have in common is that the Fellowship elderly club has given them a community – people who feel like family. It’s a place where they can go every day, a place where they are loved, a place where someone will call to check on them if they don’t show up. Without this program, these women would be home and alone. They would be hopeless.

One of the ways that The Fellowship helps them is by providing daily activities. The day I visited, the women began the morning with an art class, prompting them to use their minds and their creativity. The class was followed by a dance activity, encouraging movement and joy. When the music came on, I watched these women come to life, singing and dancing with so much enthusiasm and happiness.

I joined in with the women, dancing and enjoying the moment. It truly felt like family. Towards the end of the activity, I was dancing with one of the women when a song about Israel came on. She stopped dancing and, with tears in her eyes, lovingly looked at me and said, “I love the land of Israel the same way I love my own family. I went through so much to get here, but it was all worth it.” These were tears of joy.

As I watched these women so full of life and happiness, I thought about the countless visits I have made to homebound elderly in need of basics to survive, and the tears of joy they cried as I handed them medicine, food, or a warm blanket.

Home can often feel like an isolated prison to these elderly women, so they were thrilled that we gave them such a fun, loving place to go. The Fellowship is the lifeline for so many people in need, and God only knows how many lives we save each day.

But my experience at the elderly club taught me something else about helping the elderly. While it’s critical to give our elderly life, it is also important to give them a reason to live. The positive experiences that we bring to the elderly are, in a way, just as important as the food that we bring to their homes. As Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” I pray that the joy we bring to the elderly sustains them for many years to come.

In Loving Memory of Rabbi Yecheil Eckstein 1951-2019

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