Older members of the Atlanta Jewish community have approached the Passover holiday with a renewed sense of optimism and hope. Many of them in their 80s and 90s, who live in assisted living or retirement communities that had been locked down for months, are beginning to think once again about being with friends and families.
Seders are being celebrated again at Jewish HomeLife, which operates The Jewish Tower and The William Breman Jewish Home in Buckhead and Berman Commons in Dunwoody, among its more than half-dozen senior living centers,
“We’ll be celebrating in each of our communities but not ideally with family members yet,” said CEO Harley Tabak. “We are not quite ready for that yet. But we will be able to gather with residents in our buildings and have a seder.”
A seder is planned at Sunrise at Huntcliff Summit in Sandy Springs, as well. Last year’s event was canceled for the estimated 100 Jewish residents there. They, too, have lived with many of the same restrictions that were imposed on the Jewish HomeLife communities.
For Huntcliff Summit residents like Olive Ellner, who is 93 and has lived at the independent living facility for the past seven years, life has been an ordeal.
She hasn’t seen her daughter, who lives in Atlanta, since the pandemic began, and she’s seen friends and fellow residents she’s cherished either pass on of conditions other than the virus or move away during this trying year.
At Passover this year Ellner says she has a renewed sense of gratitude, what she describes as her “Dayenu” (it would have been enough) for having survived.
“I had a very constricted existence in my apartment. I felt that sometimes maybe I was losing my mind a little bit.”
Ellner said she felt a profound sense of relief when she completed her vaccinations against the COVID-19 virus last month. “When I had my second shot, I felt that I had survived it to this point, and I felt that the weight was lifted,” she said.
At Passover, Jewish Family & Career Services has an extensive program of services for seniors, particularly for those who are living alone in their own homes or apartments.
The coming of the holiday has seen a sharp uptick in requests for personal visits from those the agency serves. Often the visits are made simply as a way to provide some social contact to older residents who have felt so isolated in the past year.
Amy Neuman, program manager of Holocaust Survivor Services at JF&CS, said the seven case managers she supervises often have had to decide to prioritize which visits are most needed.
“There’s a kind of triage they have to do. It’s been a long year and some percentage of our clients are not literally going out at all. So some of those we help are very lonely.”
Beginning the second week in March, Tabak said he okayed plans to ease up on the restrictions that have kept residents separated from family members.
He said that 97 percent of the residents have been fully vaccinated and there has been a significant drop in the infection rate in both Fulton and DeKalb counties where Jewish HomeLife communities are located. Moreover, in recent months, he said there have been no new cases in the homes they operate.
According to Tabak, the improved situation has helped to make possible the plan to gradually bring residents together socially again.
He said he was “excited” with the prospect of giving the more than 500 residents who live in the Jewish HomeLife communities more freedom.
“We’re just thrilled to be able to have our residents gather together socially. We’re able to have family members to begin coming into our buildings, which we’ve already started visiting one-on-one. We’re just not ready yet for the group activity.”
For Ellner, too, the Passover holiday has brought a new sense of excitement and appreciation for this time of the year.
“I have so much gratitude for our freedom. We’ve been brought out of Egypt, so to speak, that we have been living in for the past year, and I have a new sense of the beauty of Jewish life. It’s wonderful.”