Caring for the vulnerable a top priority

Agencies and organizations that serve the vulnerable in the Jewish community are rising to the challenge of meeting their clients’ enhanced needs during the COVID-19 crisis. Louise Rachlis reports.

‘As a health care facility looking after vulnerable seniors, we have had to restrict access to visitors at Hillel Lodge,” said Ted Cohen, CEO of The Bess and Moe Greenberg Family Hillel Lodge. “This has included volunteers, families and others that contribute to Hillel Lodge.”

However, to help residents stay in touch with their loved ones, the Lodge has implemented scheduled video conferencing and phone calls.

“This has become very popular with many residents and their families,” said Cohen. “In addition, Ottawa Public Health permits us to have essential visitors support Hillel Lodge residents. Essential Visitors, under guidance provided by Public Health, are those that provide essential care to residents.”

This additional assistance is particularly critical given the pressures on the health care system at this time, he said.

“We are fortunate to have a number of individuals who have opted to play this important role helping to support residents.”

At Tamir, which provides services to adults with developmental disabilities, the situation is very complex because Tamir has residential, day and respite services in 10 locations, and 23 different units. As well, some Tamir participants people are quite capable and need less support, while others are medically fragile and need support 24/7.

“Then there’s the age difference, the youngest is 23 and the oldest is 83,” said Executive Director Mark Palmer of Tamir, which is basing its plans on advice from public health authorities.

“We’re in lockdown and active screening. No one is allowed into any of the units except residents and staff,” said Palmer.

“It’s unfortunate to have to do that, but the operative word is protection. We’ve implemented active screening – temperatures are taken and you have to pass the test to get in. We have a whole system of constant sanitation, and the use of hand sanitizers. No medically fragile individuals are permitted to leave the unit under any circumstances. All nonessential activities are suspended and there are no group meetings.”

Despite the lockdown, staff are connecting residents to family through social media and there are Zoom music and Hebrew classes where people join in online from their homes.

And with Passover coming, Palmer said Jodi Green, Tamir’s Judaic coordinator, has made arrangements for kosher meals to come from A Dashing Pinch so that Passover can be held with remote seders.

“The overdrive kicks in,” said Palmer, “and we have a phenomenal team, doing what needs to be done. Our staff team has demonstrated tremendous grit and determination under very trying circumstances. We’re grateful as well for the outpouring of support from the community.”

Jewish Family Services of Ottawa (JFS) is also continuing to serve their clients, despite the closure of their physical office.

“As our community struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, we know the city is worried not only about the health of its friends, families and neighbours, but also about the economic challenges and uncertainty that lie ahead,” said JFS Executive Director Sarah Caspi. “JFS is here to support Ottawa through this and we’re committed to helping in every way we can.”

Despite the unprecedented challenges and an environment that shifts on a daily basis, Caspi explained, JFS continues to provide financial support and case management to its clients, and to community members who need support.

That means “taking care of our most vulnerable seniors by delivering meals, making wellness calls, organizing grocery and medical drives, whenever possible, and connecting them to available online resources such as grocery and food delivery programs and translation services,” she said.

“We have made a major shift in terms of our counselling services, moving to a secure teletherapy platform. This allows us to continue supporting our clients, including Ottawa Jewish Community School students and their families, during this time of stress and uncertainty. As well, our network of walk-in counselling clinics has made a similar shift in its clinics around the community, moving from in-person sessions to phone and secure online support,” Caspi said.

Caspi stressed that JFS is committed to the health and well-being of its entire team.

“We cannot support the community if we don’t support ourselves at the same time,” she said.  “Even though we are physically not in the office to benefit from social connection, we remain connected to each other, supporting our colleagues through these unprecedented times… The world looks uncertain at the moment, but the power of communities of people pulling together to help each other and to be there for each other can overcome anything.”

Although the JFS office is currently closed, Caspi invites anyone in the community needing help to contact JFS at More information is available at

Jewish Federation of Ottawa and Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation President and CEO Andrea Freedman paid tribute to all of the community’s agencies providing services to the vulnerable, noting, “The fact that organizations like Hillel Lodge, JFS and Tamir are able to deliver essential services, under the most trying of circumstances, is a testament to their incredible leadership, and also to the financial support they receive annually from Federation’s Annual Campaign and the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation.”

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank (OKFB), located at Kehillat Beth Israel, has changed its operating model.

“We usually have two or three volunteers and two or three clients in the office, and it’s quite crowded,” said manager Dahlia Milech, who runs the OKFB with a team of dedicated volunteers. “But this month we’re doing Loblaws or Food Basics gift cards and increasing the value. We already do an increased value this time of year for Passover.”

They are also delivering gift cards for those who can’t get out and Milech is trying to do the distribution herself to eliminate the number of people involved.

“And if clients need help shopping for their food, I will find volunteers to assist.”

As for the future, “I just don’t know what it will look like next month, because the gift cards are more expensive, and it’s not entirely sustainable.”

A Passover fundraising campaign raised money that was very helpful, she said adding that donations can still be made online through a link at

Also helping out during this time of crisis is Ten Yad of Ottawa, a volunteer-run organization whose mission is to help individuals and families within the Jewish community during life altering situations. During the COVID-19 crisis, Ten Yad is asking that it be contacted via email at if you need assistance – or can offer some.

“We are seeking additional volunteers who would be willing to pick up and deliver meals to those facing critical illness. Together we are hoping to limit the spread of the virus while still providing the care we are known for. Therefore, all drop offs would be left at the recipient’s door in order to reduce the risks of further transmission,” notes Ten Yad on its website. “Volunteers will be risk-assessed prior to delivery requests.”

Photo: Visitors are restricted from dropping in to see Hillel Lodge residents like Fred Fiksel, seen last year in his room at the Lodge. (Matthew Horwood)