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Reaching Out to Seniors Isolated and Frightened by Coronavirus



Moving online: Rabbi Levi Levertov, center, shown here last year with some of the hundreds of seniors he works with as co-director of Arizona's Smile on Seniors program. Levertov is adapting to the current crisis and is setting up online lectures, lessons and personal study sessions to keep people learning and engaged. (File photo)

Aiding the quarantined elderly in residences and at their homes

By: Aharon Loschak

The 19th district, or “arrondissement” of Paris, France, is home to a bustling Jewish community, dubbed by some as “Petit Jerusalem.” It is also home to four retirement facilities with a proportionally large number of elderly Jewish residents.

That gives Rabbi Yaakov Zerbib, who directs senior programming for Beth Chabad-Lubavitch of Paris, under the leadership of Rabbi Levi Azimov, much work to do on any given day. Not limited to the city’s Jewish corner, Zerbib is in contact with more than 400 senior homes throughout the country, regularly sending them communications for holidays and arranging personal visitations through the vast network of Chabad emissaries in France.

Just days ago, everything was all set for the holiday of Purim, and like every year, the Jewish senior community of France had much holiday cheer on tap.

That all changed overnight when the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) escalated dramatically. The day before the holiday, Zerbib was informed by many facilities that they were no longer allowing any visitors and keeping their residents from congregating together for fear of contracting and/or spreading the virus, which has proven to be disproportionately fatal with the senior demographic.

“We’re not letting this get in our way whatsoever,” Zerbib told “Now, more than ever, they need us to be there for them, and we plan on adapting to the reality and doing whatever we can.”

Indeed, Zerbib has adopted a three-pronged strategy to best aid the community that needs it most. First, he—along with a veritable army of volunteers—has set up a war room for phone calls. Thanks to the extensive lists amassed over the years, there are plenty of people to call, and the plan is to reach every one of them, checking in and making sure they’re OK and offering to help.

Second, they are preparing “Shabbat in a Box” to be available to every Chabad rabbi in the country to bring to the senior homes in their communities. Neatly packaged and thoroughly sterile, the boxes will be delivered by the rabbis and their volunteers, who will stand outside the homes and deliver them to the personnel there, ensuring that no Jew is without their basic Shabbat needs.

Third, looking ahead to the holiday of Passover, Zerbib is spearheading a massive matzah campaign in the hope that every Jewish senior in France will receive his or her own box of shmurah matzah. While in regular times, the local rabbi would come in and lead a Seder for the residents, Zerbib has begun training sessions for the staff members of these retirement homes, training them how to lead one for their Jewish residents.

Tireless Efforts in Phoenix and Florida

Director of Chabad of Arizona’s Smile on Seniors program in the Phoenix area, Rabbi Levi Levertov and his wife, Chani, are good friends with hundreds of Jewish retirees, residents of senior homes and others in assisted-living facilities in the sunny desert state with a large population of retirees. On a regular week, Rabbi Levertov is busy with visitations, classes, lectures and Shabbat dinners for this particular demographic.


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