Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lots of places ... or just a few

I’m in Connecticut for the next couple of days, meeting federations and supporters of our work. One aspect, in particular, keeps coming back as a theme in my meetings, and I wanted to write a few thoughts about it now.

It’s this issue of the elderly in the former Soviet countries. We work in some 2800 locations, across 11 time zones (don’t get me started … I’ve been down that road before) and in many of the locations there are elderly Jewish clients dispersed to the far winds. 
Wouldn't it be so much easier – I often get asked – if we centralize the clients in large urban areas?

On the face of it, this is a really good, and obvious question. 
And especially when you think about two factors that are worth considering:

(1)    The Joint is a leading agent for ageing-in-place programs in places like Israel (such as “supportive communities,” which we call Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities” or NORCs, in the US)

(2)    The trend of Jewish life is to consolidation and urbanization (lots more on this in some future post).

And yet … there are (at least) three reasons why we’re not going to see any centralization of elderly clients to receive the life-saving food, medicine and homecare provisions that we give in the former Soviet Union:

(1)    From a demographic perspective … all those who would have moved, already moved. Most of them left, in the late 80s and early 90s. Those who are now elderly in their apartments don’t want to move anywhere. Forcing them to move isn't something we can feasibly or morally do.
(2)    From an economic perspective … building old-age homes is an astronomically expensive proposition in former Soviet countries. It would destroy our budgets and we’d need to create a whole infrastructure around these homes that doesn't currently exist.
(3)    From a psychological perspective … the idea of an old-age home in the former Soviet Union is a terrifying prospect for an elderly person. It conjures up all kinds of horrible institutionalized Soviet memories of times past.

I’m not saying it won’t happen. I’m certainly not saying it can’t happen. But if you've got the desire to make a massive impact on the lives of elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union, the best bang for your charitable buck right now is the Hesed system and its incredible life-saving work.

And if you haven’t yet climbed the five flights of stairs in a crumbling Khrushchyovka building, held hands with an elderly client whose life is saved because of the generosity and kindness of our supporters …  come with us on a mission soon, and see what we mean when we talk about saving one life is like saving the entire world.

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