Photo Credit: COJO Flatbush
Seniors enjoying fine food and fellowship at the COJO Flatbush senior luncheon.

COJO Flatbush held its first post-COVID luncheon for seniors on June 20, and for those who took part, it wasn’t a moment too soon.

The luncheon, held at the Boro Park Y, drew more than fifty seniors, a few of whom were accompanied by their personal aides and all of whom expressed how good it felt to be out and about again.

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“I can’t put into words how much I missed these kinds of events,” said a woman who gave her age as “a young 83” and asked that we call her Chana, rather than the English name she usually uses, because “these events give me such a boost of Jewish pleasure.”

Chana said that over the past 15 months she’d only left her apartment to “buy groceries from a small store on the block and for an occasional medical appointment.” Certainly not for any social events, and it was only last month that she “saw some family members for the first time since March 2020, the month that changed the world for everyone.”

This was actually COJO’s second seniors event since COVID-related restrictions were lifted; the first was a smaller arts and crafts party at COJO headquarters in May. “That one was a long time coming,” said COJO Seniors Volunteers Coordinator Naomi Shapiro. “We set it up for fewer participants because we were taking a cautious approach to resuming our activities, but we wanted to put on a larger-scale event as soon as possible. Our senior clients were homebound for nearly a year and a half, and while our staff members and social work interns were in constant contact with them by phone, we really missed the face-to-face interaction. And the seniors, needless to say, are overjoyed to finally be meeting with good friends again.”

COJO Flatbush CEO Louis Welz braves the ominously-named “head twister.”

Once the festivities got started, it almost seemed like no time at all had passed since the last pre-COVID luncheon, as attendees lost themselves in the joy of the moment, renewing old acquaintances, dining on a delicious salmon lunch, clapping and singing to the sounds of vocalist/musician Michael Abramovshchik, and enjoying the performance of magician and balloon artist Yitz The Great.

One of the audience members who answered Yitz The Great’s call for volunteers was 90-year-old Esther Zitwer, who played along perfectly and went home with a Yitz specialty – a goldfish-in-a-fishbowl balloon. Her assessment of Yitz’s magical marvels and balloon artistry? “He’s just amazing.”

Also volunteering for one of Yitz’s hard-to-figure tricks – this one involving a mini-makeshift washing machine and socks that change sizes and colors – was COJO Seniors Division case worker Nilam Nematullah, who said she was impressed with the seamless manner in which the illusory feat was accomplished.

COJO Flatbush CEO Louis Welz showed himself to be a good sport, agreeing to sit in front of the audience as a box-like contraption, ominously called a “head twister,” was placed over his head and face, which suddenly disappeared from view as Yitz appeared to be turning the box around and around in excruciating fashion. Welz groaned in mock pain to add to the illusion, which had the crowd convulsing with laughter.

COJO’s Director of Social Services Shulamis Shapiro credited Boro Park Y Executive Director Ellie Kastel for “her enthusiastic partnership in helping make the luncheon a big success, and on such short notice. The fact that she was personally on hand from start to finish says a lot about her commitment and dedication.”

For Welz, the fun-filled luncheon was an important signpost on the road to a return to normalcy after the long pandemic. “Bringing seniors out of their homes to socialize is an important part of what we do at COJO,” he said. “The companionship we provide and the activities we arrange make such a difference. It’s a real lifeline, enabling seniors to feel vital and active. It’s wonderful to have arrived at the point where we can once again give that to them.”

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