In a year like no other, the Friedberg Jewish Community Center wanted to make sure seniors who were alone would be able to celebrate one of the holiest days on the Hebrew calendar with a traditional meal, so on Thursday — the day before the start of Rosh Hashanah — the center's staff and volunteers delivered holiday meals to 100 seniors across a wide swath of the South Shore.
Normally, the Jewish center would have a dinner for seniors at its Oceanside facility to celebrate the holiday, said Marcy Hallerman, the center's senior program director. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, this was the first time the center was taking the holiday meals for Friday and Saturday to seniors.
"Most of them are people who are elderly who are unable to come out, those with compromised immune systems ... who don’t feel safe being with family, who are not savvy enough to get on the computer to do a Zoom meal with their family and friends," Hallerman said.
"But because we couldn’t do congregate meals this year, and we had done a similar thing for Passover with UJA Federation’s help, we reached out to ... [United Jewish Appeal] and asked if they would be able to help us in this situation as well." She said a $2,500 grant from the UJA enabled the center "to provide a hundred meals for our community." She said the JCC has partnered with several synagogues to connect with isolated seniors.
Mark Gross, president of Sharmel Caterers of Oceanside, said one dinner was roasted chicken; the other was stuffed cabbage, both with side dishes; plus Challah rolls, and an apple and honey.
It's "very traditional for the Rosh Hashanah holiday," Gross said. "We also included an apple and honey, it’s the custom to dip the apple into the honey." Gross said his catering business would normally be providing meals at weddings and bar mitzvahs, "but like the rest of the world we have to adapt" because of the pandemic.
"We’ve been doing a number of projects similar to this over the past couple of months for shut-ins," Gross said. "We delivered, literally, thousands of meals to homebound people throughout this COVID-19 crisis, the disease caused by the coronavirus. "We were able to give these packages at a greatly reduced price. Sometimes you have to give back to the community that you serve."
Pamela Jaffe, the center's director of senior adult day care, said the meals were delivered to people living in areas as far east as Seaford and as far west as Valley Stream, including Long Beach, Lynbrook, Rockville Centre, the Five Towns area and East Rockaway.
The first stop on Jaffe's deliveries was Harriet Shurgan, 86, of Oceanside, who, standing outside her town house, said the meals are "meaningful" and "bring some of the holiday in, even though I’m not going to be doing anything."
Shurgan said her husband, Bernie, is in a nursing home, and her daughter is out of state. She said her son is local and is "inundated with work" and was unsure if he would be able to join her for the holiday.
Maxine Metzger, a 90-year-old widow in Long Beach, got her meals delivered by Hallerman. Standing in her kitchen, Metzger, wearing a mask, as were her guests, said, "Unfortunately, this year I’ve been on the receiving end of getting Meals on Wheels because I had heart surgery." Still she said, "I think at 90, I'm doing very well. I’m glad that people are willing to participate in giving things to elderly people. That’s very important."
Metzger added, "Everyone is walking around with a mask. Life is very changed. I can’t believe what’s happening to all of us. I’m fortunate that I have the view I have. That helps a lot. A lot," she said gesturing to her dining room window that offers a view of the ocean.