Mark L. Meridy
Executive Director of DOROT

Staying Away and Staying Alive

I lead an organization whose mission calls for bringing generations together to alleviate social isolation and loneliness among older adults. So, I realize how ironic it is for me, of all people, in these days of even greater isolation due to COVID-19, to suddenly be promoting social distancing. But to protect the older adults in our lives, staying away is the new staying alive.

As we approach Passover, we find ourselves in the unfortunate position of having to practice separation at a time when we typically come together. For most of us, the beauty of a Passover Seder is not only the food but the gathering of family and friends. This year, we must find new ways to be together because a multi-generational holiday dinner is a potentially life-threatening undertaking.

To date, seniors represent 31% of confirmed COVID cases in the U.S. They account for 45% of hospitalizations, 53% of ICU admissions and 80% of deaths. The death rate of people over 80 with COVID-19 is more than 40% percent, according to the CDC. These are devastating statistics. Social distancing is essential to save lives.

For those of us who celebrate Passover, it will be a night different than all the Passover Seders we have known. The traditional reading of the Haggadah, the Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover meal, will happen. The singing and the food will likely be the same. The gathering, however, should be limited to our own family unit with whom we live day-to-day. What especially saddens me is that, this year, our older adult family members and our children will miss out on the intimate experience that makes Passover such a life-affirming and meaningful holiday – the passing down of stories and wisdom from one generation to the next.

DOROT, the nonprofit organization where I’ve served as executive director for the last ten years, transformed our programming in a matter of days to become technology based. We built capacity in phone and video-based learning programs, expanded our emergency meal delivery program and we are helping families teach loved ones how to stay in touch through their smartphones.

This year, our holiday message for the community will be unlike any other. Rather than physically bringing generations together, our message is that action isn’t just unwise, it could be deadly. Please give the older adults in your life the space and support they need. You can still come together with your older parents and grandparents in meaningful and powerful ways – just do it over the phone or video conference but not in person.

By keeping our generations apart this holiday season, it could be the one step that ensures everyone in your family, from young to old, will all be back together for years to come.

About the Author
Mark L. Meridy is the executive director of DOROT in New York City. DOROT harnesses the power of thousands of volunteers to address social isolation and loneliness among older adults.
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