The underlying concept for the new HaVeDa project, which connects young Jews and Israelis with senior citizens, is simple. On the one hand we have young Jews and Israelis who don’t live in Israel but want to stay in touch with the country and retain the language. On the other hand, we have senior citizens with a rich life experience who live at home or in a nursing home and are happy to share their stories and correspond with young people. The project creates a framework that allows them to connect through weekly one-on-one conversations, which can sometimes develop from basic language tutoring to meaningful friendships.
The project was launched by Gideon Fruchter, originally from Herzliya and recently relocated with his family to New Jersey, where he bases his operations. Gideon has contacted several American Jewish communities, which were happy to integrate the project into their Hebrew school classes, making the occasionally dry lessons much more interesting.
Video: Rona Feffer and Gideon Fruchter (צילום: רונה פפר וגדעון פרוכטר)
Nursing homes and organizations that work with senior citizens expressed their enthusiasm as well. What makes this project unique is that unlike most volunteering activities, where one side provides help for the other, in this project both sides feel they are contributing.
The first correspondence took place between students of the Jewish community in Austin, Texas and residents of the 7-Stars Retirement Home in Herzliya.
To alleviate the initial awkwardness and break the ice, the participants were provided with questions. One of the most moving moments in the project happened when one of the kids asked his conversation partner: "If you could go back in time, where would you go?" The woman, a Holocaust survivor, replied: "I would go back to the concentration camp and say goodbye to my parents." The child was startled by the woman's reply. Worried that he had offended her, he immediately apologized for his question. The woman responded: "No need to apologize. I’ve since built a new life, I have children and grandchildren and a home in Israel. I live a full and happy life." In the simplest way, a single moving moment created a bond between two people with very different life experiences.
It is estimated that over half a million Israelis currently live in the US and our plan for 2016 is to bring in to the program more schools in the US and nursing homes in Israel. The project directors' vision for the future is to promote the program in other countries with other languages as well. Gideon has already received requests to launch a similar program in Greek for children of Greek immigrants living in the US.