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From ‘Grandchild Minder’ to an ESRA Befriender

Nineteen years ago, after spending many years in the UK, my husband and I followed our children and made our second aliyah.

In the UK we had busy lives in our different professions. I especially enjoyed working in a hospital on the Dietetics team, and then switching to help run clinics in a GP's surgery whilst also doing a Counselling course.

We bought an apartment in Raanana and settled very quickly. We were helping with one of our daughters' three young children and had just celebrated our son's marriage.

I didn't feel ready for retirement but neither did I want to take any more exams. My husband returned to the UK to complete his contract and I flitted between my children, helping out when needed.

Then I wondered what I would do in September when the kindergartens reopened and my services as a "grandchild minder" were no longer needed so frequently. I happened to meet another Anglo who told me about ESRA and how volunteers are always needed.

And so began my volunteering "career". Initially I was asked to help out on Friday mornings at the ESRA second-hand shop in Raanana. It was great fun and I enjoyed it, but found my dust allergy was getting worse, so sadly left.

When the Second Intifada started with the horrendous suicide bombings and the ever increasing casualty rate, I was asked by ESRA if I could support grandparents who had lost their daughter-in-law as the result of a suicide bombing, which left her husband, their son, with shrapnel in his legs. Their two young grandsons were staying with them in Raanana, and the family needed support, both emotionally and financially.

With the help of a wonderful lady who lived in an affluent area in the UK, the synagogue members in her community decided to set up a fund to support and financially assist the ever-increasing numbers affected by the suicide bombings. She became one of my closest friends and came frequently to Israel bearing gifts. The money raised was placed in a special account and managed by the Victims of Terror Organization.

This was my introduction to befriending and supporting families, and I went wherever a family really needed a "friend" to talk to. Later I spent some time as a volunteer in the ESRA office in Herzliya, which I really enjoyed.

I had heard that Yad Sara was opening a new rehabilitation unit close to my home and decided to volunteer. Whilst helping the specialist staff, I was also befriending some of the family members whose lives were in turmoil, and who just needed someone to listen.

Finally I volunteered in Bayit shel Benji, the beautiful home built in Raanana for lone soldiers, named after Benji Hillman who was killed in action. This was another opportunity to befriend, because often the young soldiers, all in combat units, and far from their families and home countries, liked to have "a mother figure" to talk to.

We decided to move to Netanya and bought a seaview apartment in the hope that the air would help my allergies.

Suddenly I realized that I did not have any idea of what to do in Netanya, as I hardly knew the town other than the beach areas.

However, within a short time I found myself sitting in Raanana again, attending a Training Course for Befrienders that ESRA's Glenis Bertfield had arranged, together with a social worker and volunteer from Bituach Leumi. I came along with another potential befriender and also with a remarkable lady who does not allow her blindness to interfere with anything she wants to do. She too became a befriender.

I agreed to visit a charming lady who had lost her husband a couple of years prior to our meeting and she was sad and lonely. Two of her three children live in Israel and one son is in the UK. The two children in Israel do not live within "popping in" distance. It is two and a half years since I became her befriender and she sees me more as a member of her family than just a friend. She is a truly remarkable lady and extremely active for her nearly 90 years.

I would invite ESRA members to consider giving up an hour a week (or more if you have the time) to visit somebody who may not have other visitors or whose families live out of the area, or even out of the country.

Mainly ESRA Befrienders visit the elderly, but there are also younger people who need a friend.

Sometimes a Befriender may visit someone with dementia who needs somebody to talk to and hold their hand. Others may be housebound because of disabilities and only have their foreign caregivers for company. Some may have recently lost their husband or wife and they will no doubt spend the time talking about the partner they have lost, and a Befriender will just listen and empathize.

Men, as well as women, are also welcome to become befrienders and training will be given.

I hope that you will join us in Befriending. You will get so much satisfaction in knowing that for a short time you might have made a difference to somebody's life.

If you know of anyone who is in need of a Befriender please let us know. I am in Netanya, but for other areas please contact ESRA at 09 950 8371.

I would just like to say thank you to all our Befrienders who so willingly give up their time. It is very much appreciated by everyone concerned.

Debbie Shwartzberg is the ESRA Netanya Befrienders Coordinator, tel: 054 499 9294 

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