Jewish residents of Bright Side Manor, an assisted living facility in Teaneck, enjoyed lighting the menorah, traditional Chanukah stories and songs, and refreshments and Chanukah gifts on Dec.13 thanks to volunteers from Congregation Beth Am.
For nearly six years, members of the congregation have been giving their time and their enthusiasm to celebrate the holidays or just visit with Bright Side residents, many of whom have no family or few visitors.
“It feels good to be with people who don’t have any other connection with Jewish life,” said volunteer Marilyn Shapiro. “It makes them feel part of the Jewish community.”
Beth Am’s collaboration with Bright Side, a non-profit facility for low to moderate income seniors, began around September 2005. Members of the synagogue, a small family-oriented temple in Teaneck, sought to expand their social action programs and reach out to the elderly in long-term care facilities.
“We wanted to bring some Jewish life into their world,” says Connie Garcia, who organized the program together with Bright Side’s administrator, Elizabeth Davis. About 10 volunteers from Beth Am rotate to visit with the residents on a biweekly basis and on major holidays.
This time they were joined by the temple’s cantor, Susan Cohen DeStefano, who led the storytelling and singing.
“It’s great to be able to do something for them, It makes me feel good, too,” said Walter Moser, a regular volunteer. “It’s a tough life,” he added, referring to how difficult it can be for elderly people without much family life.
Elderly people are often alone and shut off from Jewish life. “They are the forgotten ones,” said Garcia. But thanks to the mission of Beth Am to embrace Jewish families and individuals in need, the small group of Jewish residents of Bright Side Manor can still benefit from the warmth and friendliness of caring volunteers, and have fun during the holidays, she added.
“The relationship between Bright Side and Beth Am is a good model for community activism and philanthropy,” said Davis. Everyone benefits, she believes, from Bright Side’s resident Holocaust survivor to the synagogue’s members to the non-Jewish residents of the facility.
“We don’t expect recognition or a reward from the residents – sometimes afterwards they just go off and play bingo,” said Garcia. “I know they appreciate us, but I think we get even more out of it than they do.”
Anna Szterenfeld, a long-time volunteer at Bright Side Manor, is a writer, analyst and editor with The Economist Group, publisher of the UK-based magazine The Economist. She lives in Fort Lee.