Reaching out

Elizabeth Hersh is Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel (TE), and a blogger on the Jewish Light’s website (   Joel Iskiwitch and John DeMott, authors of the  “What can you do?”  sidebar, are congregants at TE.

By Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh

One of my former residents called me yesterday. She lives in assisted living and is lonely. In her day she was fiercely independent and a life-time volunteer. Since she is no longer able to drive, her enthusiasm for life has greatly diminished. She feels trapped.

She asked if I could get away from work and come and visit with her. We could “catch up.” And then I became teary as she made the offer to come and help me. Perhaps there was work I needed done that she could do. She was glad to lend a hand.

We all want to feel useful and needed. We want to know that our lives have worth and value that we have something to contribute to society. It could be as simple as filling envelopes but we want to know that our actions will make a difference. We want to believe that we can alleviate someone’s heavy load by lending a hand.

Loneliness is a horrible state of mind and body. We can be lonely in a crowd or by ourselves. This particular woman is surrounded by others who have left their homes, some on their own will and others not by choice. Yet, she feels too old and reserved to go out and make new friends. It isn’t easy at any age to be vulnerable. Extending a hand in friendship means it may be ignored or rejected.


This resident feels like her life is over. She cannot see it becoming any better. Yet, in spite of these feelings, she is still trying to help another soul. She has made my week. But we still have to make hers.