I am happy to learn more about this program in my district after referring it to The Gazette.
Rabbi and his wife are bringing smiles to seniors in Côte-St-Luc
Smile on Seniors has people participating in educational lectures, pre-Shabbat singalongs and hands-on activities like baking and art projects.
Author of the article:Katherine Wilton • Montreal Gazette
Publishing date:Dec 09, 2020 •
Rabbi Levi Naparstek pours sweet potato soup while his wife, Chaya Raskin Naparstek, and their 18-month-old son Yosef look on. The rabbi started Smile on Seniors, and one of the program’s most popular offerings is a Wednesday night home-cooked meal. PHOTO BY DAVE SIDAWAY /Montreal Gazette
After moving to Côte-St-Luc from Brooklyn last year, it didn’t take Rabbi Levi Naparstek and his wife long to make their mark on their community.
One of their first tasks was to make life more enriching and less lonely for seniors.
"I want to crank the number of tickets': Legault tells cops to give more tickets to…
Close sticky video
“There are many seniors who are lonely on (either) an emotional, psychological or physical level,” Naparstek said. “A large number of them have no family in Montreal. Their children have moved to the States or other parts of Canada.”
As part of his duties at Beth Chabad C.S.L., Naparstek was asked by his father-in-law, Rabbi Mendel Raskin, to fill a void in the community by offering outreach programs to the elderly.
Word about the community’s new rabbi spread quickly last December after he hosted a musical Hanukkah celebration at Beth Chabad that attracted more than 70 seniors.
The celebration was among the first activities of a new initiative called Smile on Seniors, which has seniors participating in educational lectures, pre-Shabbat singalongs and hands-on activities like baking and art projects. Seniors who aren’t online can participate by calling in by phone. Volunteers are available to do grocery shopping or run errands.
When the pandemic began in March, activities moved online.
On Thursday night, dozens of seniors will meet on Zoom to mark the start of Hanukkah, the eight-day festival that begins at sundown. They will light a candle on their menorah and decorate jelly doughnuts, a popular Hanukkah tradition.
On Sunday, Naparstek will host a musical Hanukkah celebration featuring two cantors.
Between 50 and 75 seniors participate in the social activities on a regular basis.
“We started small and grew in a short amount of time,” he said. “Our No. 1 thing is to create a personal connection.”
Many seniors had never used Zoom prior to the lockdown so they relied on volunteers like Adam Lackman, who taught them how to use the video-chatting platform.
Lackman, 32, patiently walked them through the process and wrote down instructions. He received a few panicked calls from seniors who found the technology daunting, but after a few weeks they were able to join the Zoom meetings on their own.
Lackman said he’s delighted to see seniors participating in weekly activities, such as the Friday singalong before Shabbat.
“Sometimes seniors are overlooked because people want to do things with kids,” he said. “It’s a good deed and it brings them joy.”
Toby Shulman is active with several Jewish community groups and usually spends the winter in Florida. But these days, the 78-year-old is stuck at home because of the pandemic.
She’s grateful that Smile on Seniors offers so many activities online. She participates about four times a week and said meeting up virtually with the rabbi and fellow seniors has been good for her mental health.
“He comes into my house almost every day,” she said of the Zoom get-togethers. “Seeing each other is very positive. It has definitely added to my happiness.”
The program has blossomed because of the hard work of Naparstek and his wife, Chaya Raskin Naparstek, said Sharon Gates, a volunteer and participant.
“They’re keeping people connected so they aren’t alone.”
One of the program’s most popular offerings is a Wednesday night home-cooked meal.
Raskin Naparstek decided to make a hot meal for 23 seniors last spring as a gift. The response was so great that she decided to deliver a meal every week. She eventually had to hire a cook to prepare the dinners. A high school student packs the meals and volunteers to deliver them to 75 seniors every Wednesday.
“We learned that many seniors don’t cook for themselves — they’re tired or don’t have the patience,” she said “Our goal is to make seniors feel happier, to give them a feeling that life is not so bad, and there’s still a lot to live for.”
The social interaction the program provides shows seniors that people in their community are looking out for them, Naparstek said.
“These seniors are (the ones) who built the community and they deserve to be given back to,” he said.