Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Only One

On occasion our Ezras Achim/Bikur Cholim has the sad task of making funeral arrangements for someone who has died in one of the local hospitals and who requested Jewish burial, but with no one to take care of these arrangements for them. They may never have married and may be the last of their family. They may have drifted far apart from their family. They may be widowed with children long gone out of the house, and who don't stay in touch. They may have children who have gone off the derech and who would not honor the wishes for a Jewish burial. They may have outlived their friends. Yes, to die alone with no one there to care can be heartbreaking to hear of. But what of when those people were living? It should be no easier for us to hear about how alone some people are.

Maybe those people are young, new in the community with no acquaintances to invite them for a Shabbos or Yom Tov meal. Maybe they are older and in their sunset days. Why should it matter how or why they are alone? What is important is that they are. Those of you who are single with actively connected families are among the fortunate ones. Routine telephone calls from your caring family are the rule. Should something c"v befall you, you would not lay ill and uncared for for days or weeks. Bad weather would not leave you with nothing to eat. You're young enough and strong enough to brave the elements and get yourself food if need be.

Glance at the Shabbos table of someone who is truly alone: one plate, one glass, one fork, one knife. The one who bentches lecht is the one who makes kiddush, is the one who makes the motzi. Voices raised in zemirot? One voice, perhaps raised and perhaps not. Conversation? Just memories and thoughts. And some of those who are alone don't even bother with the formality of setting a special table. One such woman made a comment to a few of us who regularly visited her that she found the one plate an affront, that it saddened her to see that she was reduced to one plate where there once were many.

On Pesach we make it a point to say that all who are hungry should come and eat. But people can be hungry for many things, not just food. They can be hungry for the sound of other human voices. They can be hungry for human interaction. And yes, they can also be hungry for food. And surely they can have this hunger at other times of the year besides Pesach.

Soon enough it will be Shavuous. And yet again there will be those for whom the ruach of Yom Tov will be lost in the isolation they may find themselves in. The time is now to ask about those in your community, those who you may be acquainted with or perhaps not, who will be alone for Shavuous, as they are all year. Are there younger singles in your community living away from their families? Are there older people who are alone? Well, what are you waiting for? So many people take the attitude that such people have chosen to be alone, that there are plenty of community organizations that will take care of the needs of such people. In short, these people are someone else's "problem." No, they are not. Our answer to "Are you your brother's keeper?" has always been "Yes." No time like the present to put that into practice.

Many of these people are not poor in a monetary sense, although they can be, but they are impoverished in human interaction. Call during the week, if only for a few minutes. Ask how they are feeling. Ask if someone can pick something up for them, particularly in bad weather, or take them somewhere they need to go. Drop by for a few minutes to see them in person. Invite them to your homes for meals. Make them feel as if they are truly a part of Klal.

Someone was referred to our Bikur Cholim by a social worker at one of the hospitals. This person was spending a lot of time in the emergency room, usually for super minor problems, or for non-existent ones. The social worker astutely determined that this person was desperate to be able to see people and knew that the hospital would not turn them away. After Bikur Cholim took over and made regular visits and called every day and made arrangements for this person for Shabbos and Yom Tov the visits to the emergency room ceased. What saddens me is that someone could be brought to this point to begin with.

So please, first open up your minds and your eyes, and then open up your hearts and your homes. Lonely is not just a word in the dictionary--lonely may be your neighbor.


G6 said...

Very well said.
A beautiful post that moved me to tears.
One often has no idea as to the impact they may have on others.
Invite. Invite. Invite.

Lion of Zion said...

great post.

"Invite. Invite. Invite."

and visit, visit, visit

Zush said...

A few years ago there was a man in our shul who was a regular mispalel and who we figured wasn't a married man. People said hello to him but we discovered how little we knew and sadly how little we all had cared when he collapsed one morning during minyan. We called Hatzoloh and when they came the only information we could give them was his name and what street we thought he lived on. Luckily he survived but no thanks to us. It woke us up to how little we do for the people who are alone and with no one. Thanks for posting this and bringing it to more peoples attention.

Lion of Zion said...


i clarified the post on my blog linking to you. sorry for any misunderstanding.

referring to a קול במדבר is a compliment(at least on the voice of the קול and not on those ignoring it), not a criticism

Lion of Zion said...

whoops. obviously make that קול קורא במדבר

Anonymously said...

You've called for shuls to be more active before. This is an area where the shul could really be of help. The rav of the shul knows the mispalilim the best, or should, and it should be possible to call the rav and ask if there is someone who could use visiting or phone calls or inviting for a meal.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and important post. Loneliness and resulting depression is a huge problem for our elderly. There is so much emphasis on youth and children in the OJ culture that the needs of people at other stages of life are ignored.

rickismom said...

A very important post!