Today’s blog was written by a Shirley Roitberg. Shirley attends Northwestern University and was a participant in Yahel‘s Repair the World Onward Israel Service Learning Initiative in Be’er Sheva.She volunteered at the Beit Yona nursing home in Be’er Sheva.
Every Sunday and Wednesday afternoon for 5 weeks, I went to the Beit Yona nursing home in Be’er Sheva. Every Sunday and Wednesday, I would walk across a large park, cross two streets, walk through the gate, into the building, up the elevator. Every Sunday and Wednesday, I met and talked with Helena.
Helena is an elderly woman who came to Israel from the area that is now the Czech Republic. Her health has deteriorated to the point that she has to live in a facility that is somewhere between assisted living and constant hospital care. Her hearing is terrible, so we could only talk in her room. But, once she started talking, she told me so many things about her life, about her family, about Prague, about her neighbors at various points in her life. I know nearly as much about Helena’s past as I do about my own grandparents’.
Helena’s memory has also deteriorated, so she would often repeat stories that she had told me on a previous afternoon. It could get… annoying. It was annoying. Yet… I always wanted to come back. I had to know how she was doing. I loved seeing how happy she got when I would show up each time. Yes, it was draining, even annoying listening to her (as she did most of the talking), but she has so much to tell and my mere presence did her a lot of good, I know it.
During our six weeks in Israel, our group had quite a few learning sessions about various forms of service and social justice and how to make change and what is justice versus charity. All these big broad concepts to make big broad changes in the world; we also made sure not to lose sight of how impactful smaller scale actions can be. I worked with just one person at Beit Yona. I doubted at first how much good I could possibly do for her. After all, I was just there to sit and talk with her for an hour twice a week. How much could I possibly do? … Well, a lot, I think. She would smile each and every time that I arrived, after the first introduction. She thanked me before I left each time. And, chasing away what doubt was left that I wasn’t doing enough for her, on my last day there, she told me how happy it made her each time I came to Beit Yona, how it was something she would look forward to each Sunday and Wednesday. I haven’t changed the world, I doubt I ever will, but I made one person’s life better for 5 weeks. And that makes me pretty damn happy.