Volunteers Help Elderly Jews Keep in Touch With Loved Ones

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It had been a year since Rosalie Friedman, 90, visited her late husband’s grave. As her bus arrived at Machpelah Cemetery in Ferndale on the chilly, cloudy Sunday morning, her eyes filled with tears. She was escorted from the bus and onto a golf cart, which wound its way through the cemetery, stopping near Marshall Friedman’s grave. She set a tiny rock on top of his gravestone, a tradition marking her presence. “It’s a refreshing feeling,” said Friedman, 90, of Southfield, wiping her tears.

She’s one of the seniors who participated in Kever Avot, “Our Ancestor’s Graves,” sponsored by the Ira Kaufman Chapel of Southfield and Young Israel synagogue of West Bloomfield. Young Israel members of all ages take seniors to visit graves of their loved ones to mark the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and Yom Kippur, or day of atonement.

The Jewish high holidays are a time to spend with family and reflect on the past. So the volunteers say it’s only fitting that to mark Yom Kippur, which started at sundown Sunday and runs through sundown today, nine busloads of senior citizens traveled from retirement homes to metro Detroit cemeteries.

“When you’re from a large family, you miss the time with them you spent around the high holidays,” said Edith Silverston, who lives at Prentis Jewish Federation Apartments in Southfield and visited her husband’s grave. “Being together with them here helps me feel that closeness.”

Many seniors don’t have transportation to visit grave sites, said David Techner, director of the Ira Kaufman Chapel. The chapel started this program three years ago, and is working with the Jewish Federation to spread what it hopes will become a new tradition to Israel. More than 100 volunteers participate in the metro Detroit event.

When it was Friedman’s turn, her eyes brimmed with tears as she was escorted off the bus. When she arrived at the grave site, Techner said prayers in Hebrew and English.

“In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them,” he prayed.

And as the wind pressed Friedman’s coat closer to her body, she returned to the bus to begin the journey home.

This article was originally published in the Detroit Free Press.

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