health mind and body

UJA jabs Five Towns seniors


As vehicles pulled into the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC campus in Lawrence on Sunday, staff and volunteers helped 150 seniors, including 60 Holocaust survivors, to receive a first dose of the Pfizer- BioNTech Covid-19 vaccination.

The Gural JCC, in partnership with the UJA-Federation of New York and Northwell Health, created a pop-up vaccination site for the seniors and survivors, and Northwell healthcare providers administered doses of the vaccine. The second dose will given in three weeks at the same site, inside Temple Israel.

Students from the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway assisted.

“We all know how difficult it is to navigate the system if you don’t have technological ability to go online and you need people to help and take you to and from your appointments,” said UJA Chief Executive Officer Eric Goldstein as the seniors were guided into the building “This is just so, so touching and meaningful for us. To be able to see it in action is very special.”

Accessing the information for sites and vaccine availability bedevils those not familiar with computers, Goldstein said. “So we are working with our local partners who know who needs assistance. They gave us names, we’re putting together the lists and working with Northwell and other medical providers to get us the dosages, so you can have vaccine pop-up sites like this.”

Gural JCC CEO Aaron Rosenfeld called it “just a tremendously wonderful day for our community.”

“We spend our days helping to support and enhance the community, and there is nothing that feels better than being able to save lives, which is what we are doing today, really, we are saving lives,” he said.

Out of the 150 people inoculated, the most anticipated arrival was of Woodmere residents Bonnie and Jack Rybsztajn, Holocaust survivors, who just celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary.

“I personally, on behalf of my wife and myself and my family, I’m thankful for Hashem for keeping me [strong],” he said as he was helped from his car by Gural JCC Associate Executive Director Cathy Byrne and state Sen. Todd Kaminsky.

Kaminsky noted the UJA’s Holocaust survivor program, which he said is “among their most meaningful.”

“I think sometimes people forget that we have neighbors who are Holocaust survivors, and they have incredible lives of perseverance and struggle and also happiness, and making sure that there is a community that serves them is really important,” he said. 

The pandemic began around Purim last year and seniors and survivors were isolated from much family contact since them. Now, there’s a realization that with vaccinations and continued vigilance (including masking and social distancing) they might once again attend family or community seders.

“There is elation,” Goldstein said/ “People have been living shut-in because they are fearful of going out. This is a passport to resuming their life.”