An Especially Sweet Purim for Israel's Elderly

Tuesday, March 02, 2021 3:00 PM

In the runup to the Purim festival, young volunteers distributed about 2,000 Purim gift baskets to senior citizens around Israel. The gift baskets, lovingly donated by friends of KKL Sweden, brought much-needed Purim joy to the isolated and the lonely.

Lod senior citizens wearing costumes at the Lod Senior Citizens Club. (Photo: Yoav Lin, KKL-JNF Photo Archive)
Senior citizens around Israel were greeted with a sweet surprise in the runup to the Purim holiday: Purim gift baskets (Mishloach Manot), a gift of friends of KKL-JNF in Sweden. Hundreds of young volunteers from various educational frameworks participated in distributing the baskets, visiting senior citizens in their homes, social clubs and aged-care facilities in dozens of cities and towns.

"Gifts always bring joy, but what makes us happiest of all is meeting the young volunteers", said Inessa Polinovsky, from the Lod Senior Citizens Club. "It's good to know that people care and are thinking about us. During Corona times we haven't been able to leave our homes and meet people, but I hope that soon we will be able to once again spend time together."

The holiday atmosphere could be felt throughout the senior citizens club. Some of the club members arrived in costume, and everyone had fun singing and dancing together.

Among the volunteers who came to distribute the Purim gifts was Hodaya Warhaftig from the Bnei Akiva Youth Movement. "To meet the senior citizens, to hear them singing in Yiddish and to celebrate with them – this is an experience that really warms one's heart," Warhaftig said.

Her friend Chen Weizmann emphasized that not only the senior citizens enjoyed the special encounter, but also the volunteers themselves: "It makes our hearts happy and takes us out of our routine, especially in honor of Purim."
Margarita Serkis and Tzila Portonova are two Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine. "It's a privilege to live in Israel, and I'm so happy to be here", said Serkis. "It's very touching that people care about us and gave us gifts for the holiday."

"Israel is my country, and I feel like I was born here," Portonova agreed. "I want to say thank you for the attention, the gifts and mainly for not having forgotten us."

Club coordinators Alla Olhkova and Inna Litvachuk strolled among the revelers, overjoyed by seeing their elderly members enjoying themselves and celebrating together. "These gifts really made this into a sweet holiday for our senior citizens", Olhkova said.

Litvachuk was very impressed by the gift basket itself, a large reusable plastic box filled with snacks, sweets and even a bottle of wine. "I've been working in this club for 15 years, and we've never received such nice gift boxes," she said.

In attendance was Lod Deputy Mayor Elvira Kolichman. "We have been cooperating with KKL-JNF on a variety of projects for many years. Thanks to KKL-JNF's friends in Sweden, we are able to distribute beautiful holiday gift baskets to senior citizens and Holocaust survivors," she said. "After a year of barely leaving their homes due to Corona, it means a lot that on Purim they can once again encounter other people. Meeting the young volunteers creates meaningful intergenerational interactions. While KKL-JNF's friends from Sweden can't actually be with us here today, I know that their hearts are celebrating with us from afar."

In many communities, the distribution was augmented by value-oriented activities led by guides from KKL-JNF's Education and Community Division, including games and discussion circles on the importance volunteering and community involvement.

"There is no better time than the festival of Purim to convey the value of mutual responsibility, which is expressed by people exchanging gifts with each other and also by giving gifts to those in need," said KKL-JNF Education and Community Director Sar-Shalom Jerbi.

Gift packages were also distributed to senior citizens in Bnei Ayish. The National Service volunteers from the Scouts movement went out together with volunteers from United Hatzala to distribute the packages to senior citizens in their homes.

"We're just waiting to be called to participate in campaigns like this," said Noa Marshak from the Scouts. "There is nothing more meaningful than making senior citizens happy, especially during Corona times."

Gili Fang came to Israel from California to spend a year doing national service with the Scouts. "Today's activities are an excellent example of what made me leave everything in the United States and come here – an opportunity for me to contribute and connect to the community. We're bringing a smile to the faces of the senior citizens and brightening their day, and there's nothing more moving than that."

"It's fun to give back to the community and to make people happy on the holiday," concluded Gilad Tietz, another Scouts volunteer.

Bnei Ayish Local Council Head Arie Garala was also on hand to help distribute the Purim gifts. He asked to express his deep gratitude to KKL-JNF's friends in Sweden. "This is really such a wonderful contribution, especially now, during Corona times," he said.

The volunteers went from house to house, knocking on doors and gladdening people's hearts with the gift baskets, and no less importantly, spending time with them and relating with genuine human warmth.

A volunteer from United Hatzalah and a representative of the local council arrived at the modest home of Elvira Lubavin, who lives in Bnei Ayish. She happily opened the door for them, her eyes shining with excitement. "Your caring made this day into a holiday for me, and I'm accepting this gift from you with tears in my eyes," she said.

Despite physical affection being a no-no in the COVID-19 era, in a moment like this, nobody could refrain from exchanging hugs.