Posts Tagged ‘golden’

Holocaust Survivors: What are they doing now?

May 17, 2017

pr golden -f-IMG_4766-maleCompanionship. A vital need at every stage of life. And especially essential for the holocaust survivor. Rivka is a typical survivor.   She was born in 1930, in Lodz and grew up with her parents and three siblings in a warm, supportive family. But the war came crashing down on this idyllic family life and young Rivka was left all alone. Illness took the lives of her parents and her siblings perished in Auschwitz and Treblinka. Life as she had known it was no more and the future looked bleak indeed. But brick by brick, she rebuilt her life, marrying and raising a family. And now at 87 years old, she sits, absorbed in her memories, in need of the companionship of those who understand. Spending her days in a rocking chair by the window would be perfectly acceptable but she doesn’t want that. She wants to laugh. She wants to share. She wants to connect with others. And so Rivka became a member of Ezer Mizion’s ‘British Café Club’ and, for the past four years, has not missed an activity. Whatever the weather – cold, rainy, scorching hot – Rivka is there. Bright and bubbly and ever so grateful to the staff. Recently she fell and fractured her arm. But that didn’t stop her. Her arm ensconced in a cast, she surprised us all at the next event, showering blessings upon each individual staff member. “I’m a holocaust survivor and my blessings have substantial weight in heaven,” she says as she moves on to the next person with her warm words of praise.

The club meets three times a week. One hundred and twenty members partake of a healthy breakfast, exercise and lectures on a variety of subjects including current events, seasonal topics, and health maintenance. Parties and field trips are frequent additions. At the club, Rivka enjoys a warm, supportive, stimulating environment in the company of women who went through similar traumatic experiences. For Rivka, the club is a place where she feels comfortable sharing her thoughts, and at times, her difficulties, alongside stories and jokes that bring a smile to her friends’ faces.

After Rivka broke her arm, Ezer Mizion arranged for home attendants to be sure she received the care she needed. The home attendants were chosen with forethought and were able to provide not only personal care and homemaking but also friendship and a listening ear. Rivka is comfortable speaking to them at length about her difficult past and the shocking ordeals she and her extended family underwent. A very significant relationship was woven between Rivka and her attendants, past and present. Now whenever Rivka arrives at the Club, the staff that handles the attendants also receive her heartfelt words of gratitude and blessings.

Like Rivka, Rochel is the sole survivor of her entire family. In 1946, she arrived in Israel on the “Biria” ship alone and bewildered in a world gone mad. Rochel is 94 and not only is she lucid but she has a sparkling, animated personality and a great sense of humor which is enjoyed by all he fellow club members.

Her experiences lay buried within her and her senior years found her with a burning desire to share them with others. The club members were her first audience. Once the dam broke, her thoughts come pouring out in a torrent and it was never enough. Ezer Mizion arranged for varied frameworks, enabling her tell her story again and again. She also hosted high school students in her home who were mesmerized by her experiences. A powerful speaker, she told her story at community centers and at high schools.

Ezer Mizion’s Eshnav program is a one-on-one program provided in the homes of homebound survivors. In the framework of the program, every Holocaust survivor receives a personal service package tailored to his/her needs. The service package includes: social support, physical exercise, cognitive enrichment, music, social and functional enrichment through game playing, and more.

Through the Eshnav project, Rachel was assigned a social work student, who came every week to her home, as part of her practicum. A marvelous, most significant bond was formed between the two. Even after her training was completed, the student chose to continue her connection with Rachel, serving as a pseudo-granddaughter. Together, they talk about current events, read newspapers, laugh together, and sometimes even bake or prepare special dishes. Rachel attests that her bond with the student literally gives her life.

One of the youngest holocaust survivors, Tzippy, was four years old when she was smuggled out with her mother and three siblings and hidden by Raoul Wallenberg in hide-out apartments. During that time, they suffered severe hunger. The family lost her younger brother to starvation. Chananya, another survivor, was nine when he was deported with his family to Auschwitz. Both were fortunate to have survived the war together with family members. In 1958, they married and began to rebuild. Now in their golden years, they are anxious to give to those that were even less fortunate. Tzippy is a volunteer at the club, preparing breakfast, escorting the more frail members from gym to activity room and delivering interesting talks on a variety of subjects. Giving to those who shared similar experiences fills a deep need within her. Volunteering became more difficult when Chananya fell and fractured his leg. With no elevator, he was now homebound. But that didn’t stop him from creating. An Ezer Mizion staff member visited him and was stunned to find his home filled with breathtaking artistic creations, the fruit of years of labor. The painstakingly prepared creations, using original materials, depicted his life story from holocaust to rebirth. Newly registered in the Eshnav program, Chananya now receives weekly guided physical activity as well as stimulating conversation with a social worker student who has become fascinated by his artwork and the story behind it.

Unfortunately shortly afterwards, Tzippy also fell on her way home from her volunteer work at the club. Ezer Mizion immediately dispatched a caring home attendant to help her out but all of us at Ezer Mizion look forward to the time when she will once again be on the giving end.

These are our heroes, men and women who survived a horrific nightmare and went on to build, to create, to flourish and give to the world. Now it’s our turn to offer support to these courageous champions. May they enjoy their golden season for many years to come.

pr golden 2 14 yom tzilulim DSCF1594


Golden Age?

December 28, 2016

golden-despair-in-rocking-chairIt’s called the Golden Age. From the vantage point of a younger person, it truly seems golden. No difficulties with toddlers or raising a difficult teen. No problematic boss to please. No mortgage payments to meet. The senior can just sit back and enjoy her accomplishments. But is it really so? Now let’s change hats and sit on the senior’s rocking chair. No children who need her to kiss the boo-boo away. No shared smile of satisfaction with a daughter when the perfect Yom Tov outfit s finally found. No challenges. No satisfaction in meeting those challenges. The former frantically-busy-mother wonders just what she is doing in the world. Gradually, lacking the stimulus of natural challenge, she forgets how to think, how to problem solve, how to plan. Lacking goals, she is miserable, depressed with no idea how to extricate herself from the dilemma.

Ezer Mizion’s professional staff has many means of counteracting such a situation. A recently added program is Games. Let’s join a trained volunteer as she plays with a group who is being introduced to games:

I explained the rules of Sukoku to them. They seemed hesitant. One was put off because she felt games are for children. Another was sure she was going to be embarrassed in front of the others by not knowing what to do. Following many-step directions has not been her forte in recent years. Some hardly knew the meaning of the word ‘game’. But they all were brave enough to try. These were some of the comments after an hour’s play.

“Can you come twice a week?”

“Instead of sitting at home with nothing to do, I came. And I did it!”

“At first I thought it was childish, but after I was successful, it made me feel good.”

“It’s a good think that we took turns playing. I am naturally a slow thinker, and when it was my turn, I had time to think and no one jumped in and snatched it from me.”

“Where can we buy the game? I’ll play with my granddaughters and they’ll see that Savta knows how to play, and even how to win!!”

The following week, many reported that they had purchased the game and played with their grandchildren. They had developed strategies and we were able to move up to the highest level.

When I introduced Tentrix to a different group, many held back.

“I’m not first. I don’t want to mess up.”

“I’ll be first. If I don’t get it right, please, no comments!”

One whispers in my ear, “Give me a hint how to start.”

“I have an idea, let’s talk over how to put the tiles together, out loud. Everyone will say what she thinks is best to do.”

And so the game began: There was a discussion among them how to put the tiles by color, to find a good spot, each one gave advice to her friend how to make a chain, and as they worked, they discovered techniques in creating small and large loops.


When I introduced Rummikub, a game that had been in existence for generations, I was surprised that most of them were not familiar with it.

“Do you think I had a childhood? The Nazis stole it.”

“I didn’t even play games with my children. I was too busy giving them my heart and soul.”

“The only game I played was Hide and Seek, hiding from the cursed Nazis. I had to fight for food, for potato peels.”

Checkers was another shocker. Almost none of them knew how to play. We worked on strategies. At first, their goal was to get a king. Gradually, they learned blocking and defense techniques and how to win by careful planning.

Each week, several report playing one of the games with grandchildren. Their conversation has become more upbeat with their feelings of empowerment spilling onto other areas of their lives. The games are just one part of Ezer Mizion’s Golden Age Program which includes social groups, gardening groups, walking groups, trips and much more. It is our hope that we will be able to truly help to make these final years the golden years of joy and nachas.

Ezer Mizion provides services to over 660,000 of Israel’s population annually in addition to its Bone Marrow Registry which saves the lives of Jewish cancer patients the world over.

For further info: 718 853 8400         5225 New Utrecht Ave Bk NY 11219                   




We’re Waiting for You

November 2, 2016

The following was written by a trained volunteer in Ezer Mizion’s new program for the elderly designed to bring out the golden-ager from a pit of depression back into his world of family and friends.


Dear Ezer Mizion Staff,

pr-golden-helping-handHow are you? I just wanted to share what happened last week with my sessions with the elderly. You really trained me well. You’ll see in a minute why I say that.

On Wednesday, I woke up with strong leg pains. I called Mrs. G.’s attendant, intending to cancel my session for that day. As soon as I told her that I was Nechama from Ezer Mizion, she didn’t let me say another thing. She burst in, saying enthusiastically, “We’re waiting for you!” I was so moved that I couldn’t refuse her. I told her that I would be late, but she didn’t care when I would come, as long as I would come. I came to them literally limping and in pain. It was such an emotional session. The non-Jewish attendant told me, “Please come again. We are waiting for you. It’s very important to her to pray. I can’t do it with her.” It’s a fact: When I davened aloud, she was alert for almost three quarters of an hour. She opened her eyes wide, as if she understood every word I was saying and as if she was reminded of things she once knew. I left happily, after we danced and sang songs about the coming of Mashiach. It seems to me that the attendant was also touched. She said, “We’re waiting to see you next week!”

From there, I went to Mrs. S. Her daughter was so excited to see me. “You cannot imagine how much Imma waits for you. She talks about it all day.” The daughter said that suddenly, she is a lot more motivated and willing to do things she hasn’t done for years. I gave her a page of symmetric shapes to color in and she did it with great effort. I reflected her feelings that she doesn’t feel like working and isn’t in the mood because of her aches and pains and general ill health.

After I gave her the chance to talk about what was really bothering her, I took out the Memory game I had borrowed from Ezer Mizion’s Game Lending Library. At first she looked askance at it, without interest, as if to say, “What do I have to do with such a game?” Slowly, but surely, I brought her to a point where she really enjoyed it and cooperated. Her daughter sat in the next room, and couldn’t believe what she saw.

When I finished playing with her, I gave her a hoop with a ball, and again, she at first did not want it. I told her we would play with her daughter. I held the loop, and she and her daughter played with the ball for a few minutes, and there was lots of laughter and joy. My grandchildren came to her, and she blessed them and showed interest, and it was really fun for her and the children.

After the whole long story that I wrote, I almost forgot the “cherry on top” – that the pain in my leg disappeared as if it had never been… apparently in the merit of my sessions that I had planned to cancel.



Ezer Mizion provides services to over 660,000 of Israel’s population annually in addition to its Bone Marrow Registry which saves the lives of Jewish cancer patients the world over.

For further info: 718 853 8400    5225 New Utrecht Ave Bk NY 11219                   http://www.ezermizion.o

I Missed Mine!

July 6, 2016

pr golden holocaust surv bas mitzvah 2016Many Holocaust survivors have built anew and are now successful heads of multi-generational families. But there in the recesses of their being lies the childhood that never was. They don’t speak about it. An adult would feel foolish expressing his regret over never having had the opportunity to play with dolls. But it’s there. Or rather, it is not there. A void that cannot be filled. Among themselves, the sorrow may come up in conversation. And at one other place: an Ezer Mizion Social Club for Holocaust Survivors. It was there that an idea was born.

As these heroes attend their grandchildren’s Bas and Bar Mitzvahs, their hearts are filled with pride. Yet there lurks that germ of regret. “I missed mine.”

Would a formal celebration during the Golden Years serve as closure for the childhood celebrations lost in the wisps of crematoria smoke. Call it a Bas Mitzvah. Call it a closure of sorts. Would it serve to put to rest, once and for all, a few of the demons that still invade in their souls?

The caring professionals at Ezer Mizion thought it may. Were they correct? A survivor spoke at the event, representing all of the attendees. These are her thoughts.

 I was a little girl, just nine years old. Alone, devoid of her past, and apparently, of a future as well.

I never celebrated a Bat Mitzvah, not at age 12, and not after that, either. My childhood was stolen from me. They robbed me of the kiss and embrace of a father and mother, of games and life with my brothers and sisters, of a family’s caring, of a Shabbat and Yom Tov table, of learning at school and frolicking about in my free time. They robbed me of a sheltered life at home, sleeping cozily in my warm bed, of food that you don’t have to worry about every minute, of a normal life, where all the world’s evil remains far outside your walls.

We will never be able to retrieve all that they stole from us. We built beautiful homes. We tried hard so that our children would not feel what we went through. And we did a good job. That’s a fact, and our children are the proof.

And now, you have created this day to celebrate our Bat Mitzvah. How symbolic and how moving it is. We thank you wholeheartedly for this beautiful idea, which fills us with gratitude.

About a hundred Holocaust survivors, ages 75-95, dressed in festive clothing were brought to the Kosel. The event began with a visit to the “Chain of Generations” display and the “Behind Our Wall” in the Kotel Tunnels. An elegant meal was served, enhanced by musicians and by chazzan Dovele Heller, who sang chassidic compositions and nostalgic Yiddish tunes. Rabbi Chananya Chollak spoke, showering the survivors with blessings and each survivor was given a siddur with her name engraved on the cover.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the women were brought back to the Kosel for their first prayer using the new siddur.

The women returned home excited and brimming with the experience. They felt that this was a meaningful landmark occasion for them. It strengthened their feeling that people have not forgotten them, and even in their waning years, took the trouble to arrange this important event.

For further info:    718 853 8400       5225 New Utrecht Ave Bk NY 11219

Ezer Mizion’s Elad Transportation Troops in Action

February 10, 2016


Ezer Mizion, the Caller ID reads.

“Are you available to drive a patient to the hospital today at four?” Eli’s forehead wrinkles in thought and he makes the calculations. “I’ll take it.”

His cell phone vibrates. “This is Dr. Kluger’s secretary,” You have an appointment in another two weeks but a slot became available today at four. Interested?”

Yes, very interested. His foot has been waiting for over a month to be seen by the overbooked, expert orthopedist. True, it’s nothing critical but the nagging pain… Perhaps he should cancel the volunteer trip? Just this once…

“No,” he heard himself say. “I’m booked this afternoon.”

A soldier in the Ezer Mizion army does not go AWOL.

At 3:55 he leaves. His foot seems to be bothering him so much than before. The thought that he could have resolved his ongoing pain pulses through his mind.

The passengers are deeply engrossed in saying Tehillim and he silently joins their pleading murmurs. He almost forgets about his aching foot and the appointment that almost was. The passengers are frightfully tense. They burst out of the car and rush in.

He adds another chapter of Tehillim to the anonymous passengers’ pool of prayers, and is about to begin the long ride back . At that precise moment, a call comes in from his elderly mother.

“Eli,” his mother sobs hysterically. “Go to Tel Hashomer. Fast!” “Abba fell. He is in terrible pain. A neighbor called me at work. Nobody went to the hospital with Abba,” she groans. “Abba needs you. Now.”

To Ima’s disbelief, he assures her that he is already at the entrance. “An ambulance just pulled up,” he updates his frightened mother. A tremulous smile breaks out on the pained face of the elderly man on the stretcher. His son is here. Now everything will be all right.

Two terrified, elderly parents at peace now because a soldier in the Ezer Mizion army does not go AWOL.



“Ezer Mizion calling. Will you be available to take an elderly woman to the hospital?”

“No,” his rational mind silently answered. He had plans for the day.

“Yes,” his compassionate heart responded aloud. His plans would have to wait.

He stopped at the entrance to the hospital and waited but his patient did not emerge from the car. Frightened. Her voice trembling, “They don’t pay any attention to a sick old lady” she whispered. “I never know what to say.” The devoted volunteer discerned her unspoken request and offered his services as her escort.

It was just as she feared. Their attitude was rough and humiliating, arrogant and derisive. She approached the receptionist’s desk to let her know that she had arrived. “Sit down, Grandma,” the receptionist roared at her. “When it’s your turn, you’ll hear about it.” At this point, the “escort” came to her assistance, speaking authoritatively. The attitude towards her changed sharply. She suddenly wasn’t just another “old lady,” come to spend the rest of her days sitting in clinic waiting rooms.

Their turn at the receptionist arrived. The woman rummaged through her pocketbook and was horrified to see that she’d left her form at home. “On the end-table in the living room, under my glasses,” she wrung her hands in disbelief.

The volunteer took her house key in hand, and rushed back to Elad. Then back to the clinic. Again at the side of “his” patient for the duration. Five hours later, he opened his front door.


An elderly person with frightening case of muscular dystrophy asks for a ride to the clinic. A relationship develops and he becomes the volunteer’s “adopted” grandfather. Efficiently and energetically, the volunteer arranges complicated bureaucratic business and submits requests to the authorities. His trips to the grocery take longer because of all the items he buys for the old man – unfamiliar packages appropriate for his strict diet. Making appointments for doctors, second opinions, and tests have become a regular part of his “to do” list these days, and food for Shabbat is on his wife’s list –unfamiliar recipes adapted to “Zeidy’s” health needs.

Ezer Mizion transportation troops armed with an arsenal of solicitude and sensitivity.




When a Parent Develops Dementia…

January 13, 2016

pr golden 2 14 yom tzilulimThis journey of mine into the heart of the Ezer Mizion world enters its eighth week. Every week, I reveal another chapter here, in our little corner. So far, we have only touched on a small fraction of the sweeping empire of activity.
Throughout this ongoing overview, during which I have met up with the people at work and have seen the various projects in action, I cannot help asking myself one question – a rather frightening one: What if all this did not exist? These are not government systems under official auspices. They are complementary, civilian, alternative systems. They are the product of private initiatives, supported by donations. They are a bonus that our civilian society is privileged to have at its disposal and that are so basic and self-understood!
Question: What does a family do when their loved one is stricken with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia?
The medical establishment will do its part to the best of its ability (in this case, that is easy enough: to inform the family that there is nothing to do…). But what’s next? How do you deal with a new reality in which a father or grandfather gradually loses his awareness and becomes helpless and disconnected, while his body remains whole and healthy? How do you protect him? How do you relate to him? How do you bear the pain and frustration? What do you do?
You turn to Ezer Mizion.
And what do you do in situations that are not quite so miserable, when you simply reach a stage where you are compelled to assist a parent or other relative who is gradually losing his independence and leaning on the care of others?
You turn to Ezer Mizion.
There, families of Alzheimer’s patients find their first hope for redemption from their impossible situation. They are presented with a course of action that ends up easing not only their burden, but the life of the patient himself. This takes place at the Organization’s Alzheimer’s Support Center, serving very many families in Israel.
This work is only a small part of the comprehensive system Ezer Mizion operates for the benefit of seniors and their families. Here, these precious elderly people, who initiated and established and exerted efforts and lovingly prepared everything for those who are now compelled to care for them and assist them – are given the special attention they have earned. A huge division of Ezer Mizion pools within it the spectrum of services needed by the senior and his family with an emphasis on setting up the environment so that the elderly individual will receive the optimum care.
Caregiver services, a counseling center, an empowerment center, walking groups, a variety of workshops, visits by volunteers, the Bonding with Motion program (a fascinating project that I intend to expand upon in the future) and more, without bounds.
I find it amazing. That there is an address. That there is somewhere to turn. That there is a way to ease pain that is not physical. That there is someone to talk to. That there is – Ezer Mizion.

She Applied for A…?

June 10, 2015

Rivka*pr-colorful_question_mark_vector_set_148455 was a hardworking home attendant, employed by Ezer Mizion to care for a frail, elderly woman. Her salary barely sufficed for her needs but she was content, knowing that she was doing important work. Her own sense of kindness intensified by the caring atmosphere at Ezer Mizion, she was constantly on the lookout for additional means of easing the plight of her client. When Rivka’s hours were over, she would return home only to care for another golden-ager, her own father. She cared for him devotedly but it soon became too difficult for her as his needs grew. And so, Rivka applied to Ezer Mizion in the hope of obtaining a male caretaker for her father. She knew that one of the major criteria for acceptance in any Ezer Mizion program is compassion and sensitivity and was confident that anyone sent by Ezer Mizion would take good care of her father. What a tremendous relief it was for both her and her father when a fine, considerate young man was found in the Ezer Mizion rosters. When Rivka discussed her father’s requirements with the new attendant, he mentioned that he is certainly aware of the needs of the elderly. His own mother is currently being taken care of by a gentle, sensitive home attendant from Ezer Mizion’s Homecare Attendant Service Department. “Let me tell you how she handles my mother,” he continued. As detail after detail came to light, Rivka’s face changed. It mirrored a sense of appreciation, gratification, a bit of embarrassment until she admitted to the new attendant that it is she that has been caring for his mother.
They spoke often after that, each one sharing the trials and concerns of his/her parent. They got to know each other well. They each liked what they saw. Hashem has many ways of bringing two people together and soon there was an engagement. A new home was to be set up among the Jewish people.
Both being challenged with serious economic situations, their finances precluded the purchase of even the most basic needs for a new home. Ezer Mizion, the parent organization of its Homecare Attendant Service Department, felt like the parents of the new young couple. Ezer Mizion undertook to assist them with furnishing their home with appliances, essentials and other support so that they could set up their home in a dignified manner!
And their real parents? Their parents are filled with wonder and awe at the heavenly means employed to bring their children together. And their hearts are bursting with joy and nachas.
For further info: 718 853 8400 1281 49 St, Bk, NY 11219

Bonding through Motion

April 22, 2015

The prestigious Journal of Intergenerational Relationships (JIR) has published an article prepared by Ezer Mizion’s Geriatric Services. JIR is published by Taylor & Francis, an international publisher whose headquarters are in Philadelphia and London. The article appeared in the recent special issue, “Intergenerational Family Relations in the Multi-Cultural Society of Israel,” guest edited by Ariela Lowenstein and Ruth Katz and is titled “Bonding through Motion: A Physical Activity-Based Approach for Strengthening Relationships between Elderly People and their Caregivers”. The article explains the Bonding through Motion project that was created by Ezer Mizion’s Geriatric Services professional staff which has been successfully implemented in hundreds of families caring for an elderly, homebound loved one. The article is available at

Dealing with Alzheimers

November 5, 2014

Yated Ne’eman – Reshut Harabim
Oct. 28, 2014
Kinetic and Connected – for Seniors
I was confused and helpless. My mother was afflicted with Alzheimers and I was at loss as to how to deal with it. What would contribute to her well-being? What would be detrimental? What activities, projects will she benefit from? I wanted to help but had no idea how.
I didn’t know how… but Ezer Mizion did. Their professionals had developed a program entitled “Kinetic and Connected” which is designed to fill the time of Alzheimer’s patients with activity that can enhance their quality of life, while simultaneously relieving the family members caring for them. Volunteers are thoroughly trained and provided with an accessory kit with stimulating games, books, and exercises intended to improve Alzheimer’s patients’ quality of life. The kit was developed with an understanding of the processes the patients are experiencing. A trained volunteer is assigned to each patient. A social worker would mentor her as she worked with her patient and she also participated in a support group for volunteers. These resources helped her deal with a range of challenges that cropped up in the course of her work.
I was fortunate. A volunteer was available for my mother. It is hard to describe the change that took place in my mother as a result of the program! The smile returned to her face. She again had areas of interest and challenges she could relate to. Even her physical condition showed marked improvement.
When I related all this excitedly to my friend, whose father is also an Alzheimer’s patient, she rushed to call Ezer Mizion and ask to participate in the project, but to her great sorrow, she was told that right now, there was no available volunteer, so she would have to wait. My friend was devastated. I understood her feelings, having undergone the trials of handling Alzheimers with no assistance just several months ago.
And I understood something else. With all my experience with my mother, using the techniques which the volunteer had taught me, I was a perfect candidate to become a volunteer for others. And so the circle completed itself. I quickly offered to volunteer in the project, having learned how much it contributes to the seniors and what a tremendous chessed it is, while also offering an interesting and stimulating challenge for the volunteers. The training sessions were fascinating and enlightening. Today, in addition to working with my mother, I also volunteer for another Alzheimer patient and am gratified to see the amazing improvement in her as well, baruch Hashem.
For further info: ezermizion;.org

Hosting the Alzheimer Patient for the Holidays

October 1, 2014

Ezer Mizion’s Tzipporah Fried Alzheimer Support Center Presents:
Tips for the Holidays
The holiday season is a time of renewal and of fresh opportunities. At this time, when the extended family comes together and elaborate, festive meals take place with many participants, serious difficulties may arise for those caring for a patient with Alzheimer’s.
The following are a number of tips that can help you deal successfully with the complex challenges:
• First of all, there is no point in posing “riddles” and asking the ill parent/spouse orientation questions regarding the various family members, the laws of the holiday, etc. At the early stages of the illness, the sick person’s still has high self-awareness. He is very sensitive to comments and interrogations about his condition and is easily angered and offended. An inability to answer simple questions causes feelings of embarrassment and frustration in people with Alzheimer’s. Instead, help him out with the information from your side. Instead of asking, “Dad, do you remember who this is?” preempt the question by saying out loud, “Look who’s here – Moshe, Ephraim’s son.”
• It is a good idea to come to the home of the Alzheimer’s patient with a basket of items connected to the holiday (honey, apple, pomegranate, etc.) and say to him: “I brought you a small gift for Rosh Hashanah, which is coming up this week. May you have a good, sweet life!” In order to rouse memories of the family Yom Tov table, you can try cautiously asking about a favorite recipe you can recreate and/or sing songs and excerpts of the prayers along with him. The goal is to stimulate the patient to get involved in the holiday in an experiential way, founded on a pleasant connection to family members, not in a way that will rouse anger or suspicion.
• If the parent is being hosted in your home, or if you are a guest in his home, it is advisable to involve him in the hubbub of preparations. The parent wants to feel like a parent, in spite of his illness, and therefore, he needs to sense that he has a valuable role to play, that the other family members need him. At times, we want so much to honor a parent and make things easy for him that we end up sitting him on the sidelines, so as not to trouble him. But sometimes, it is important to “trouble” him! “Doing” gives a person a feeling of value. You can request the parent’s help in setting the table, serving, choosing a song to sing at the holiday table, letting him dip the apple in the honey for all the guests, praising a beloved recipe that is a traditional part of the family repertoire. You can initiate a round of berachot for the New Year by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren or a round in which the patient blesses the family members.
• Some patients may have delivered Torah classes over the years, spoken in public, or served as chazzan for the Rosh Hashanah prayers. It is important to take time to think whether the patient is perhaps still capable of doing so, or if it might pose an overly complex challenge for him that may end up causing him dishonor. The decision is a difficult one and demands great sensitivity, both on the part of the gabbai, the shul authority, as well as the family members. If the conclusion is that the job is too much for the parent, it is best to speak with the gabbai and brainstorm together how best to conclude the parent’s tenure in an honorable manner.
• Take into consideration that the holiday prayers may be too lengthy for the patients and they may have difficulty following. It is important to escort them outside from time to time, if necessary, to give them a break, and to be prepared for the possibility that they may want to go home early.
• At times, the parent is unable to verbally express how he feels, but his actions speak for him – restlessness, getting up from the table, pacing back and forth in the room, crying. These behaviors may indicate a need that he has trouble expressing, such as the need for a quiet respite from the children’s noise, the need to use the bathroom, hunger or thirst, fatigue, a flood of memories – good or painful. It is important to be alert to changes in conduct and to try to “read” and properly “translate” the body language. It is a good idea to appoint one person who will escort the patient throughout the holiday, sit next to him at the table and be attuned to his various needs (leaving the table occasionally, using the facilities, resting, appropriate nutrition, etc.).

In conclusion, a few words for you, the primary caregivers: Coping with Alzheimer’s is a long, drawn-out challenge. Be forgiving of yourselves. Split the heavy responsibility on your shoulders with other family members. Take a break a moment before you feel that the difficulty is too much for you. Remember that it is hard to give attention at every given moment. It is hard to deal with questions that are repeated again and again. You are allowed to make mistakes. It is permissible – and recommended – to take small breaks to rally strength. Tension, fatigue, despondency, anger, and impatience will have a deleterious effect on your health, on your bond with the patient, and on his mood. Try to do whatever you are able to with patience, peace with the situation, and a focus on what there is, not what there isn’t.
Wishing you a happy New Year, a year of good news, a year of success and an easy time coping. We will conclude with the words of the Rambam (from the Physician’s Prayer): “Please, compassionate, merciful G-d, strengthen me physically and emotionally and implant in me a whole spirit.”
Ketivah v’chatimah tovah,
The Tzipora Fried Center

This service is given as a part of the Geriatric Services Department of Ezer Mizion, which also provides Caregiver Services for the Elderly