By Nicole Jansezian
With his family in South Africa and a minimal grasp of Hebrew, Gershon Brodovcky spent 18 years living in Nof Hagalil feeling isolated until a social worker encouraged him to check out the Alma Center.
“It changed my life,” Gershon, 73, told CBN Israel. “I can’t put it to words.”
Now Gershon is thriving. He found a place where he can build relationships and practice cultivating bonsai plants—an expertise of his that he had to give up when he moved to his small apartment.
Alma, an organization which CBN Israel supports on a monthly basis, serves dozens of elderly Israelis—including Holocaust survivors—in the city of Nof Hagalil in the Galilee region.
“It helps so much to give this type of support. Many organizations donate twice a year or just at the holidays,” said Dmitry Schneidmann, who oversees CBN Israel’s programs for Holocaust survivors and the elderly. “I believe it is important to be a monthly partner, especially in peripheral areas such as this.”
Each month, CBN Israel covers the costs of hot meals for participants and delivery to others who are homebound and cannot make it to the center. CBN Israel has also donated one-time gifts for kitchen renovations and for new equipment whether ovens or refrigerators in the homes of some of the beneficiaries.
Throughout the week, 150 elderly people come to Alma. A bus picks them up in the morning. They arrive to a full breakfast followed by all sorts of activities from art to lectures, music, gardening, and more. The participants learn how to use computers and apps on smartphones. Of course, they also have a chance to socialize and eat a hot meal before they go home.
But most importantly, Alma has cultivated a sense of family, said Miri Koren Yavich, director of the center.
“This is a natural medicine,” Miri told CBN Israel. “Here they have family, activities, and friends. It’s their home. I know them well and can tell if they’re having a good day or a bad day just by their face, their smile.”
The alternative, Miri explained, is sitting at home alone in front of a TV.
“They can’t cook, they can’t do their own shopping so at least after a day at Alma, all they have to do is go home and enjoy their evening,” Miri said.
During the war, the center had to close for the first few weeks. After they got permission to reopen, Miri feared many would be too scared to leave their homes.
It was the opposite.
“They didn’t just come back, they ran back,” Miri said.
Many of the participants are Holocaust survivors. There is also a large population of new immigrants making for a variety of languages peppering the center including Russian, Spanish, Romanian, and English. They recently established a club for new immigrants from the tribe of Menashe—Jews from India.
Alma welcomes all citizens of Israel—Jews, Muslims, and Christians—without regard to nationality or religion. At the center, they celebrate the different cultures through events and festivals focusing on the food and traditions of the various groups represented.
Dmitry said Alma acts as a natural absorption center for these immigrants who get a chance to deepen their understanding of Jewish traditions and integrate into Israeli society better than if they were stuck at home.
“As an immigrant myself, I understand the importance of this,” he said.
Nicole Jansezian is the media coordinator for CBN Israel. A long-time journalist, Nicole was previously the news editor of All Israel News and All Arab News and a journalist at The Associated Press. On her YouTube channel, Nicole gives a platform to the minority communities in Jerusalem and highlights stories of fascinating people in this intense city. Born and raised in Queens, N.Y., she lives in Jerusalem with her husband, Tony, and their three children.