Students Reach Out to Seniors

Jewish teens and quarantined seniors find companionship over the phone

BY GABRIEL GRESCHLER for the J Weekly | APRIL 14, 2020

When the Jewish Community High School of the Bay started to shift its classes online in mid-March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, administrator Roni Ben-David still wanted students to engage in some sort of service opportunity, even if it had to be virtual.

At the same time, the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living had recently closed its doors to visitors to protect its seniors, leaving residents of the assisted-living facility with close to zero interaction with other people.

So the San Francisco high school sent an email to its students: Would you be interested in having a phone call with seniors once a week?

“I got a great response,” said Ben-David, who is director of social justice and inclusion at the high school. “I got students to sign up right away.”

Since then, nine high schoolers have participated in the program, phoning residents for 30 to 45 minutes at a time when both the young and the old are feeling isolated.

Sophomore Hana Skigen said she immediately signed up because of her past work with seniors at Jewish Family and Children’s Services and Rhoda Goldman Plaza, another senior living facility in San Francisco.

“I think it’s so sad that they are being isolated,” Skigen said. “They are the most vulnerable. I may not be afraid [of Covid-19], but I know seniors have to be a lot more cautious.”

JCHS had its students go through a small training before making their calls. It included a list of do’s and don’ts, and reminders to speak slowly and clearly and make sure the conversation is reciprocal.
Jewish Community High School of the Bay
1835 Ellis Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: 415.345.9777
The Jewish Community High School of the Bay (JCHS) is a unique college preparatory high school committed to integrating deep learning, universal wisdom, and Jewish values. We empower each student to embrace her or his Jewish identity, generate empathy and compassion, delight in lifelong education, and improve the world.