Face to face befriending by ESRA has been running in Raanana and Netanya for many years, initially started by Val Kantor and then continued by Glenis Bertfield. With the onset of the pandemic it was realized that this would have to change as people were not able to meet up. With this in mind we decided that we would still keep in touch with those who valued their contacts with their befrienders by regular phone calls and we would also offer telephone befriending to lonely or isolated people throughout Israel.
There was a tremendous response from people all over the country applying to join our Zoom training program. There were three free sessions offered where we explored the challenges of this way of reaching out to those in the community who were feeling lonely. Families and social workers were delighted to learn that so many of our volunteers were willing to give their time to make these calls. We discovered some of our volunteers spoke languages other than English, so the three coordinators, Mary, Candy and Natalie could match up these befrienders with Hebrew, Yiddish or Italian speakers.
.Befriender J arranged to meet her befriendee in the lobby. "He's so happy that I'm going that it makes me feel good to know I can be of benefit to someone who really wants to connect. I feel it's a blessing that I can do this." A lady in the south of Israel has calls from Y, who is a northern-based befriender. Her daughter relates how much her mother enjoys these chats and how grateful they both are. Another befriender relates how she discovered the person she was calling was actually a distant cousin and she was able to reconnect her with other family members. One befriender, over 80 years of age, says that calling someone makes her feel valued. During a Zoom conversation with a befriender, our coordinator noticed some interesting paintings in the background painted by the befriender, so she made a match with a befriendee who also paints - "a match made in heaven", she said.
During the two lockdowns when I couldn't visit, I called each week to check how my befriendee was doing, relates H. "When the lockdowns eased I took books and left them outside the front door, and collected ones that had been read. I'm extremely fond of my befriendee and his wife and I resumed my visits on the first Tuesday after the latest lockdown had eased and people were allowed to visit. We always find interesting subjects to discuss, from local and international politics including politicians, books, living in Israel, volunteering, and pretty much any subject of mutual interest. It's also nice that although the couple are older than I, we know many people in common".
Says L: "befriending is very rewarding although not always easy, but it's worth the effort to see the welcome smile even though it's behind the mask". A says: "I'm really enjoying befriending. I've been phoning someone regularly and we finally met when his carer brought down two chairs into the lobby of his building where we sat with masks and kept well apart. I'm a good listener and he really appreciates the attention I give him". In the words of one befriendee: "it's so good to know that my befriender is really interested in me and we can chat like old friends, even though we've never met".
Our befrienders are now based throughout Israel and are reaching out to a wide range of people, not only the elderly, but also to those who have mobility problems and for whom this contact with a friendly voice is their lifeline to society. In total 39 people are currently being befriended. The relationship is strictly confidential and the befrienders receive training and support from me (I am a social worker).
If you are aware of someone who would appreciate a call or a visit from one of our befrienders, please call Mary Shea 053 255 1508 (Netanya), Natalie Elgrod 054 610 4262 (Raanana), or Candy Bliss 054 524 2186 (other areas), who will be happy to arrange this.