Life can throw many curves at a family, particularly one that is cursed. If I didn’t know better, I would swear some unseen gypsy somewhere is sticking pins into wax figures of the women in my family. Cancer is the disease every female, on both sides of the aisle, suffers from in one form or another. I’ve lost cousins and aunts to it; even some of my uncles yielded to the insidious horror that cancer becomes to a family.
My mother suffered through several bouts of cancer and always came up the winner. We were so thankful for that. If she could survive cancer and heart disease, then she could survive almost anything. Enter Alzheimer’s.
It was more than a difficult decision that my sister and I had to make, but, after spending several years caring for my mother at home, I could no longer face a losing battle. Weak from the side effects of Alzheimer’s (yes, there are side effects — many), she was hospitalized and finally, placed in a nursing home in Altamonte Springs.
I am not sure just when someone from the Jewish Pavilion began to visit her, but I arrived one afternoon and found my mother sitting in a chair, a small challah on her nightstand and a smile on her face. She hadn’t smiled in a very long time. Not since entering the nursing home. She had been depressed and nothing seemed to cheer her up.
When I asked her where the challah came from, she said that some nice lady stopped by to chat and gave it to her. They talked about her days in Brooklyn and about my father and the work they both did for Jewish organizations. It was the first time my mother had more to say than her usual one sentence. She was animated, she was happy and she had a copy of the Heritage newspaper by her side to read.
Just before I left that day, I asked the nurse on duty if she knew who had visited mom. She wasn’t sure, but thought it was from a Jewish organization.
The social services worker told me that a group called The Jewish Pavilion has someone visiting Jewish residents on a regular basis. I’d heard of the Jewish Pavilion and thought it was a physical building. I came to find out later, after meeting Nancy Ludin, its executive director, that indeed, it had once been a physical presence inside another nursing home. Nancy has the energy of a hurricane and before I knew it, I was blown away by her enthusiasm and genuine concern for Jewish elderly in the Orlando area. She and the staff of volunteers work with little extra funding to help support the things they do. And they do a great deal!
For almost three years, I have been witness to and often participated in some of the events that the Jewish Pavilion is responsible for in nursing homes. They are real people who visit real people in desperate need of their presence. I do not use the word “desperate” lightly. They bring no medical proficiency except that of making Jewish elderly, out of their element and so often alone in life, happy and content once again. They bring a bit of Yiddishkeit into a void that has swallowed it up. The presence of the men and women who volunteer to sit and talk to Jewish elderly in nursing homes, be it skilled care or assisted living facilities, bring life and memories flooding back to them. It gives them a sense of belonging to a community again. They know they are no longer alone.
By providing someone to talk to every week, my mother has been able to jog her memory back to her days in Hadassah when she was active as a regional vice president. She can talk to Gloria who visits her every Wednesday at Regents Park, who understands what she’s saying about being active and doing the right thing for others. She loves having Evan and Joe, two teenagers with patience of saints, to play cards with. She participates in the holiday events with other Jewish residents and even some non-Jewish residents who come to share the warmth and companionship.
So, we have established the fact that the Jewish Pavilion is not a physical building. It is a state of mind that gives every elderly Jewish person the understanding, the attention, the love and admiration that they deserve at this stage of their lives. It gives every Jewish resident in more than 40 facilities that they cater to joyous moments, books to read, musical programs, holiday observance, holiday parties and a rabbi when the need arises or if they just want to chat. It is an organization without which so many Jewish nursing home residents would languish away.
No, it’s not a building. It is a pillar holding up so many Jewish souls by reminding them that they are Jews and as such, they will never be alone again. Visit JewishPavilion.org for more information.
Winter Park resident