The Wallerstein Kesher Program

Help Pack and Deliver Care Packages for Homebound Jews in our Community

About the Wallerstein Kesher Program
by Sumie Okazaki, Chair

Three times a year before Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, and Pesach, the Shaaray Tefila community enters the Davis Auditorium for a Kabbalat Shabbat oneg and sees long tables laid out neatly with a variety of holiday food items.  “Ah!” you think to yourself, “it’s the Kesher packaging assembly line!”

The Hebrew word kesher means connection or bond, and the Wallerstein Kesher Program is a longstanding mitzvah project at Shaaray Tefila where we as community help pack and deliver care packages to homebound Jewish seniors in our neighborhood during Jewish holidays. The goal of the Kesher Program is to make personal connections between Shaaray Tefila members and Jewish homebound seniors in our neighborhood.

I admit it took me a couple of years of belonging to the temple before I picked up a kesher bag to deliver to a senior that I did not know. Once I started delivering the holiday packages on a regular basis, I began to feel increasingly a part of not just the Shaaray Tefila community but a part of the neighborhood that surrounds Shaaray Tefila. Through my involvement, I have discovered that there are a large number of Jewish older adults – many of whom are older single women whose partners and spouses have long ago passed away – living quietly amidst the hubbub of our Upper East Side neighborhood. On a typical visit, a kesher recipient might meet me at the door to her apartment and chat with me for just a few minutes about her health and about the upcoming holiday. Sometimes the recipient might not be feeling well enough for a visit but is thankful for the delivery.

On a recent visit, one of my recipients in her early 90’s shared with me that she was feeling sad that most of her friends have either moved away or have died. She invited me in and showed me old photos of herself – a Lana Turner-look alike - as a “rebellious” young woman who had left home at a young adult because her father had wanted her to get married instead of attend college. (She ended up earning a bachelor’s degree in her 70’s!) Another couple I recently met were elderly Ukranian Jewish refugees who warmly invited me in for tea and cookies when I called to tell them that I was a friend of Matthew Haiken and wanted to bring them the holiday package. Matthew, a former Shaaray Tefila board member, had visited with this couple for many years but could no longer deliver the packages himself because of his recent move out of the city. To me, making these personal connections with older Jewish neighbors and hearing their life stories not only exemplifies the spirit of the Wallerstein Kesher Program but enriches my life with more meaning.

The Kesher Program at Shaaray Tefila was started by Madeleine and Julian Wallerstein. Betty Cooper Wallerstein, a long-time temple member who for many years coordinated the program, shared with me that she and her late husband David did not know Madeleine and Julian personally but heard about them from other Wallerstein relatives and wanted to continue the great work of the Kesher Program. Betty stressed the importance of making personal connections with the homebound older adults in our community, and she noted that all five recipients to whom she delivered the Kesher bags this past Rosh Hashanah were touched by the outreach.

So before we know it, Chanukah will be upon us, and another round of kesher packaging and delivery will commence. Do you know a homebound Sharray Tefila congregant who is no longer able to physically make it to the Temple? Do you have a homebound Jewish neighbor who would love a visit and a care package? If you have a nomination for new Kesher recipients that you would like to see added to our list, please email the information (name, address, phone) to Sumie Okazaki at [email protected]. And please donate to the Madeleine and Julian Wallerstein Kesher Fund to continue this meaningful community mitzvah.