Yaffa was looking forward to her weekly visit with Rafi, the volunteer that had become her friend over the last three years. Following a stroke a week after her 80th birthday, Yaffa rarely ventured out of her third-floor apartment in Jaffa. Whenever Rafi walked through the door, it was as if a gush of fresh air lifted her up.
But today, Yaffa was not in a good mood. A short phone call with her daughter left her feeling empty and angry. “How are you doing today?” Rafi asked. “Could be better,” she said. They sat down for a cup of coffee and after a bit of small talk, she couldn’t hold back anymore. “She just doesn’t care; she never comes to visit” Yaffa confided in Rafi, and burst out crying. Rafi reached out and held her hand.
At the other end of the age spectrum, at the Jaffa Institute’s Parent-Child Center, Alya, a 24-year-old Muslim woman, was playing on the carpeted floor of the therapeutic play center with her two-year-old son. Alongside her, Yael, a 22-year-old Jewish woman was giving a massage to her one-year-old daughter. Six months ago, they began to chat after each noticed that they attended the drop-in center every Tuesday morning. After taking her 3.5-year-old son to his nursery, Alya would head to the Center. Alya’s husband worked the night shift at a small factory over two hours away from their home, so sometimes he would just sleep at his sister’s home nearby and then go back to work.
They only saw each other two or three times a week. Alya was overwhelmed with two small children to care for at home. The social worker at the Center provided her with a shoulder to cry on, and was her source of hope. When, at 21-years-old, Yael became pregnant with her daughter, she envisioned a gaping black hole in front of her. Her mother had her own health problems, and Yael felt that she had no one to turn to. The psychologist at the Center had saved her from her postpartum depression. When Alya and Yael headed home every Tuesday, they walked slowly together. When Yael was feeling down, Alya put her arm around her. When Alya was falling apart, she found Yael’s hand on her shoulder.
Since 1982, the Jaffa Institute has been a “hi-touch” place. Hi-touch interactions involve personal attention and trust. The counselors at the afternoon enrichment centers would sit with the children, ages 6 to 12, when they ate their hot lunch after arriving from school; for most, this was their only balanced meal of the day. Sometimes, when a child had a particularly tough day at school, they would seek comfort from their counselor. They knew they could be trusted. At home, there was little time nor energy for personal attention and comfort.
Enter Covid-19 – March 2020. Masks, social distancing, maximum 5 people in a room. Immediately, the Jaffa Institute pivoted to a “hi-tech” place. Rafi couldn’t visit Yaffa anymore; phone calls would have to suffice. It worked, but it just wasn’t the same. The social workers stepped in to try to fill the gap. They provided emotional and practical support every week in hour-long phone calls to Yaffa and 200 other isolated elderly and Holocaust survivors. The Parent-Child Center utilized online and messaging platforms to keep connected with families. On Facebook, the staff posted story time in Hebrew and Arabic, as well as games and activities for families to do at home.
The social workers and psychologists reached out to each parent at least once a week. The pre-COVID-19 “afternoon” centers transitioned to full-day programs so children without home computers or internet access could use computers at the center to participate in their schools’ remote learning. Counselors identified families that did not have enough food at home and arranged for meals to be delivered. The pre-COVID-19 needs were still there, and were met with increased challenges. The Jaffa Institute rose to the challenge and found new ways to provide “in-touch” support for the people and families it serves.
One year later – March, 2021- Israel is slowly maneuvering out of the COVID-19 period. Government restrictions are changing rapidly. Rules on group gatherings are easing up. Everybody is trying to navigate this new reality. Following a year of no hand-shaking and no hugging, and now with widespread vaccination, can we safely hug our grandchildren or elderly family members again? For now, just like everyone, the children at the Jaffa Institute enrichment centers will continue to wear masks. Since children have not been vaccinated yet, staff members are asking themselves if it’s a good idea to hug a child who looks like they lost their best friend. Hi- touch has moved to hi-tech, and now it will slowly move back. Time will tell how we will navigate this new reality.
(Based on actual situations with fictitious names)
Yechiel Marcus moved to Israel from the US in1987 and has been working at the Jaffa Institute since 2004. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Jaffa Institute- www.jaffainstitute.org