‘For six years my wife and I have taken an active part in Jewish communal events – Shabbatonim, Torah study, drama classes. When lockdown began we were horrified by the thought of being locked within four walls, unable to meet up with friends, to do what we love’
Alexander is a relatively healthy, energetic man and has a great sense of humour. The start of lockdown was terrifying for him.
His life hasn’t always been easy. Alexander was born in 1946. At 23 he joined the army but after one year suffered an injury and was forced to leave. He settled in the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine where he got married and had a daughter. He progressed in his career in transport, received two degrees and was awarded numerous certificates for his professional achievements.
Alexander retired in 2014, the same year that Donetsk began experiencing armed conflict. He was forced to flee the city and move his family to Zaporizhzhia. Aged 68, he had to build a life from scratch in a completely new place.
Alexander and his wife were traumatised by the experience of fleeing conflict. They still feel the echoes of this trauma today. But they describe how their local Jewish community centre Hesed Michael, and its projects supported by World Jewish Relief, were a lifeline. They could participate in social activities, build a community around them, and receive constant support from a psychologist. They began to sleep better, and their post-traumatic stress lessened over time.
I know that the Jewish community will help us
For six years he and his wife have taken part in the many activities provided by Hesed Michael. They feared this support network and community would disappear when lockdown was announced. But Hesed Michael, in partnership with World Jewish Relief, quickly realised that with the right devices, internet access and assistance, older people like Alexander could stay connected to their community from home. They worked hard to equip as many older people as possible with devices and internet access, before embarking on a full programme of online activities. Each week older people can take part in exercise sessions, art classes, conversations with psychologists, communal Shabbat calls and a series of drama classes culminating in special festive performances like the one below.
Thanks to the Jewish community centre and its support I found the strength to carry on. I have no time to get bored – we have lots of friends whom we talk to on the phone, and we can celebrate the holidays virtually together. We are living!
But for many older people without this support, the reality is very different.
There are at least 15,000 Jewish older people in Eastern Europe that still need a device to help them stay connected from home. At least 10,000 older Jewish people need help paying for internet or phone connection. Without this connection to the outside world, World Jewish Relief’s partners report that isolation is having severe effects on older people’s physical and mental wellbeing. It is not only affecting them psychologically, but is also causing people to become frailer, lose muscle strength and bone density, and experience decreased mobility. In some tragic cases older people under lockdown have lost the ability to communicate.
World Jewish Relief, with the generous support of the UK Jewish community, will continue to be there for Jewish older people in crisis. Donate today to ensure that no older person is alone this Pesach. Your support could mean another older person like Alexander is able to join a virtual Seder night and sing, talk, laugh and pray with friends once again. Visit our Pesach Appeal to learn more and donate.