The following CMC story illustrates how the CMC’s involvement with vulnerable senior citizens can make a huge difference in their lives.
Rabbi Aron Wolf, director of the CMC, recently received a request from the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (CDFSS) to visit an elderly Jewish lady, whom we shall refer to as “MW”. The CDFSS had received reports from MW’s neighbors regarding her extremely erratic and disturbing behavior. She banged on her doors and walls at all hours of the night, habitually screamed at herself and at other people, and generally behaved in an anti-social manner toward her neighbors. She did not speak to people or allow anyone to visit her. In fact, MW had even rebuffed the police and the social workers whom the CDFSS had sent to her apartment to try to see if they could help her in some way. For various reasons MW’s children were not in a position to help her in any substantial manner. So the CDFSS turned to the rabbis of the CMC, whose caring presence and tactful intercession had turned around a desperate situation for vulnerable Jewish seniors in many such past cases.
Upon entering the apartment building, Rabbi Wolf informed the doorman that he had come to see MW. The doorman shook his head in chagrin. “I’m afraid that she won’t let you in, sir”, he said. Undeterred, Rabbi Wolf suggested that the doorman call up to the apartment to let MW know of his intention to visit. “No sir, I’m afraid that’s not at all possible”, the doorman regretfully responded. “The poor lady doesn’t own a telephone.
”Rabbi Wolf walked upstairs to MW’s apartment. But the only response to his knocks at the door was a barrage of shrill hysteria: “Get out of here! Go away! Get away from my door!” Undaunted, Rabbi Wolf repeatedly reassured the lady that he meant no harm. If she would only open the door, he said, she would see that he was a rabbi who had just come to visit her and see what he could do to help her. Finally, MW shrieked through her apartment towards the closed door that Rabbi Wolf could return in a half hour.
“The bed is broken so I sleep on the floor”, MW began, waving her hand in the direction of two ragged blankets that lay on the floor in a crumpled heap. “But here, you can sit on the chair.” Observing the precarious state of the chair’s legs, Rabbi Wolf declined to be seated. He gently spoke to MW about her situation and the obvious need for her to accept assistance in managing her affairs. During the conversation, Rabbi Wolf walked over to the kitchen area and opened the refrigerator. It was pitifully empty, being occupied solely by one crusty piece of string cheese and a forlorn apple. Apparently, MW was unfortunately not in the habit of eating well, or for that matter, even adequately at all.
As the conversation progressed, MW gradually came to understand that her situation was unhealthy and unsustainable, and she realized that she was unable to live alone anymore in her apartment. Overwhelmed and bewildered, she asked Rabbi Wolf what to do. Rabbi Wolf advised her to be immediately admitted to the ER of a nearby hospital in order to be placed under medical care. Once she was stabilized, had appropriate medication and a doctor’s report, she could be smoothly admitted into a nursing home. Rabbi Wolf’s caring and thoughtful approach had the desired calming effect, and helped MW to catch her breath and focus. “Let’s go!” she exclaimed.
The sight of MW being quietly and calmly accompanied by Rabbi Wolf to his car left many mouths gaping in wonderment among the neighbors in her apartment complex. It had not taken long for the elderly lady to pack her scant belongings. All her personal effects and every item of clothing that she owned were loosely packed into just two small, purse-sized bags. [Later, after MW had been in the hospital for a day, one of the hospital staff members asked Rabbi Wolf how to convince MW to change her clothes. She did not realize that due to poverty and neglect MW did not own a proper change of clothing, and was used to wearing the same garments day and night, without change.]
MW anxiously clutched her bags as she sat in the rabbi’s car en route to the hospital. The ER was full of people waiting to be seen and to be admitted to a hospital room. Rabbi Wolf realized that it would be a long time before MW would pass fully through the admission process and be given a bed and some food. In the meantime, who knew when she last ate a nourishing meal? So after registering MW’s presence under the watchful eye of hospital staff members, Rabbi Wolf hurriedly made his way to Good Morgan fish store on Devon Ave, where the proprietor, Mr. Morgan, has been donating food for the needy clients of the CMC for years.
Returning to the hospital laden with bags of sandwiches, fish and salad, Rabbi Wolf watched MW gobble up the fare with the palpable relish of a person who hadn’t eaten proper food in a very long time. He stayed with MW until she was admitted and settled in a hospital room. The next day, Friday, he made sure that MW received a special care package of food for Shabbos. He maintained contact with the hospital staff to be aware of the medicine, treatment, and plan of care prescribed by the doctor. And he helped facilitate MW’s admission and transfer into a nursing home of her choice, where she will live in a safe and caring environment.