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Checking in on the Elderly in the Former FSU

Checking in on the Elderly in the Former FSU

UJA-Federation is helping to expand a network of call-in centers for thousands of Russians.

Working the phones at an Odessa call center. Courtesy of JDC
Working the phones at an Odessa call center. Courtesy of JDC

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, UJA-Federation of New York has allocated tens of millions of dollars to help Jewish residents and Jewish organizations in New York.

Its long reach includes the poor and increasingly isolated Jews of the former Soviet Union. With new coronavirus hotspots emerging in Russia and the number of confirmed cases there at 145,000, UJA-Federation, with a grant of $75,000, is helping to expand a Joint Distribution Committee-sponsored network of call-in centers that coordinate the needs of thousands of elderly Russians.

“We are working in a very different environment,” Michal Frank, the Joint’s Israel-based regional director for the former Soviet Union, told The Jewish Week in an interview. “There is much more of a need, and a different need. They are dependent on us, more so now. Many are extremely impoverished.

“We’ve significantly expanded remote contact and phone calls … to combat social isolation,” Frank continued. The effort is part of the Joint’s Hesed centers network. “Our first concern is to ensure continuity of care.” The calls, she said, are also meant to “monitor cognitive well-being.”

Frank said UJA-Federation has also awarded $135,000 to a Hesed project that is seeking alternative technology to help beat back loneliness and isolation for the more than 80,000 poor Jews in the FSU who get relief through the welfare centers.

The JDC has also just opened a new phase in its Covid-19 FSU efforts by partnering with TechForGood, an Israel-based organization, to use technology to manage loneliness and social distancing among seniors in the former Soviet republics.

She added that new technology is necessary because of the virus-related shutdown of the long-running “Warm House” initiative, in which seniors living alone could gather for worship and social events in members’ homes.

While socially isolated, seniors throughout the former Soviet Union served by the Joint are overall in good physical health, she said. Close to half of these seniors are Holocaust survivors whose care is made possible through support from the Claims Conference, a JDC partner.

“Only a few clients” have been diagnosed with Covid-19, Frank said. “We pray it will stay that way.”


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