Pandemic pen pals: Temple Israel rabbi pairs young and old to alleviate social isolation

Davis Brown (left), pictured with his brother, Leo, is now pen pals with Sam and Marilyn Fox as part of a program started by Rabbi Amy Feder of Temple Israel. 

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Davis Brown wrote to his new pen pals about his school (Parkway Central Middle) as well as the sports and hobbies he enjoys (soccer, graphic design, chess, video games). He also asked if they liked to travel and about their favorite foods. And he mentioned how he enjoys playing basketball at the Jewish Community Center building in Chesterfield named in their honor.

“Since it’s the Fox building, I figured they could relate,” said Davis, 14, explaining how he wrote a letter to Marilyn and Sam Fox as part of an initiative begun by Temple Israel Rabbi Amy Feder.

“I had been talking with Miriam Seidenfeld at Jewish Family Services about how to help folks who are homebound because this isn’t just about medical needs but social needs too,” said Feder, referring to being quarantined at home because of the coronavirus. “I thought it would be amazing to find a way to connect some folks in my community — seniors and those who are isolated — with those who wanted to be pen pals. I put it on Facebook and the response was tremendous.”

Feder said she heard not only from school-aged kids who wanted to participate but also from their parents. 

“My hope is to build some relationships out of this,” said Feder, who has so far paired together 65 pen pals. “Instead of pairing people randomly I started thinking what child might best connect to which senior, so that they can both have a meaningful relationship out of this.”

Davis, whose family belongs to TI, gives his rabbi high marks for the idea. 

“It gave me something fun and something on a deeper level to do,” he said, adding that he started online school this week. “It’s a good way to sharpen my writing skills and make a new friend. 

“I hope they write back,” he added. “When this whole quarantine thing is done, I’m hoping to see them at temple at the High Holidays so we could have a conversation.”