Jewish Journeys – Connecting seniors to the Jewish community

The Jewish Federation of Ottawa awarded four Jewish Journeys grants to new and innovative programs that aim to connect underserved populations to the Jewish community.

The E-Bulletin has already written about two of those programs, HaKibbutz and Through Their Eyes. Please read those articles at the highlighted links.
The remaining two programs focus on bringing community to seniors, reducing isolation, and addressing various needs in older age.

Hillel Lodge: The Java Project: Addressing Social Isolation and Loneliness

Shannon Fraser is the Interim Director of Social Work, Program and Support Services at the Bess and More Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge. She sat down with the staff at the E-Bulletin to talk about Java, Hillel Lodge’s new program to “End Loneliness and Spread Happiness.”

According to the Java website “loneliness and social isolation are epidemic, affecting many older adults. Research tells us that enhancing emotional connections is key to solving the problem. While that sounds easy—just go and talk to your neighbour—it isn’t. Typical social programming addresses loneliness with entertainment and distraction. Java Group Programs bring people together with an innovative approach that ends loneliness and spreads happiness. Through structured peer support and peer mentoring, Java participants uplift others and are uplifted themselves.”

Hillel Lodge applied to the Jewish Journeys program identifying that the older adults they support experienced intense periods of social isolation during COVID and that many still experience loneliness and spend most of their days in their rooms. Although Hillel Lodge offers an extensive calendar of activities to stimulate and engage, some within their community were not taking advantage. 

Java Music Club allows Hillel Lodge staff to identify who is most in need of peer support and personally invite them to a small group led by a peer mentor. The guided curriculum allows the group to choose a theme and then offers music and discussion topics around that theme. The themes include friendship, Jewish holidays, trust, Mother’s Day and more. The group gets to know one another better and begins to create stronger relationships. The benefits of participation are felt long after the formal session has ended.

In the coming months, Hillel Lodge plans to launch two additional Java programs. One is called Java Memory Care for its residents with late-stage dementia or Alzheimer’s and Java Gives Back a program that will have Hillel Lodge residents participating in mitzvah projects to benefit others. Hillel Lodge is happy to have volunteers to help organize and run the mitzvah projects. Please reach out to Shannon Fraser at to get involved. 

Jewish Family Services: Connecting Jewish Seniors and Their Care Partners to Community

Another population deeply impacted by isolation during COVID was caregivers. Community programs were closed and those caring for an aging loved-one were the only source of stimulation. This took its toll on caregivers. Through a Jewish Journeys grant, Jewish Family Services has been able to expand its adult social groups for those with a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis and give both caregivers and care recipients much needed time out of the house. 

This program supports older adults to attend Jewish programs in the community with volunteers or staff, freeing up the caregivers to attend their own Jewish activities. According to Laura Thomas, Director of Senior Services at JFS, this program is unlike a traditional respite service in that it is community orientated. The goal is not to bring a substitute caregiver into the home, but to have both parties out in the community, meeting with friends and deepening their Jewish connection.

The program runs for two full days a week includes Jewish holiday celebrations, current event discussions, parsha talk, and kosher food. JFS is also looking to start a choir for the older adults to be able to express themselves through singing and enjoy Jewish and secular music and host concerts for the community. They are hoping to have their first concert in April of next year. To learn more about the Adult Day Program, click here.

JFS is always looking for volunteers to help support seniors during programming and being a one-on-one friend for a senior during the program and/or during choir practice. Reach out to George Sladowski at to learn more about the JFS Adult Day Program.

We wish both programs success and know that they are benefiting the isolated seniors and their caregivers living in our community.