Granparents and grandson lighting Hanukkah Candles
Granparents and grandson lighting Hanukkah Candles iStock

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (Keren L’Yedidut) is once again launching its "Illuminating With Fellowship" campaign to tackle the plague of loneliness among Israel’s elderly population. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 42% of the elderly population aged 75 years and older feel lonely. During the upcoming holiday of Hanukkah, hundreds of friends and volunteers from The Fellowship will visit the homes of approximately 1,300 of such elderly people from all over the country to celebrate and light Hanukkah candles with them.

Yael Eckstein, President of The Fellowship, said: “We are proud to go out with hundreds of volunteers in Israel to illuminate the Hanukkah holiday for more than one thousand senior citizens across the country. The mobilization of many members of society on behalf of senior citizens warms our hearts every time. This is a beautiful example of the bridge-building work being carried out by The Fellowship.

Christian donors contribute the funds that provide essential heating to Israel’s neediest elderly and Holocaust survivors, while hundreds of Jewish volunteers go to the homes and deliver the aid personally.”

Miriam Gabay, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor from Morocco who lost her sight during her youth, spoke of her loneliness: "All week, I am all alone. Just yesterday at two o'clock, I fell and was unable to get up.” There are a few hours during the week when she receives some help from her caregiver. "She arrives, helps me at home, and after she leaves, I am all alone again." The feeling of loneliness only intensifies over the Sabbaths and Jewish holidays. She adds: "Sometimes I even feel that it would be better to commit suicide.”

David Herman (80) walks approximately an hour every day to his synagogue in order to be with acquaintances and to not be left alone for elongated periods of time. "Every morning I go to pray. Then I go back home where I am all alone.” Unfortunately for David, his family lives abroad and does not see him much at all. "My family, including my grandchildren, live abroad and I don't see them much, which hurts me. It is just painful. I am left alone with just my thoughts." His modest one-room apartment is decorated with many pictures of his extended family, which helps to make him feel just a little less lonely. "I see the family members in photographs that speak to me, and so I feel less alone. It affects me mentally."

Many volunteers who have worked with The Fellowship in previous years have maintained contact with the elderly individuals they have helped, and they continue to devote time and availability to provide them with company. Four years ago, Leah Frisco (69) began volunteering on behalf of The Fellowship and was introduced to Adela Kahana (82) and since then, their friendship has blossomed. Born in Romania like Leah, Adela is a crippled woman who never married or had children. In her old age, loneliness has become ever more apparent to Adela. Even when she decided to move to a nursing home due to increasing difficulties accompanying her continued aging, Leah helped Adela with choosing the most fitting nursing home for her. Leah also wanted to make sure there was public transportation nearby in order to be able to visit her on a frequent basis.

Adela eventually chose a nursing home in Acre where Leah, who lives in Kiryat Yam, continues to visit her. Leah had lost her mother just two years before she started volunteering for The Fellowship. Her relationship with Adela fills her with warmth and functions as a reminder of her relationship with her late mother. "She is like the mother I had,” Leah said. During her visits, Leah brings Adela traditional Romanian foods which she bakes and discusses Romanian culture and literature with her.