Over the years, various therapies have become increasingly popular as a means of offering relief for a wide assortment of conditions. Over the past year, Americare, a Brooklyn-based home care agency, has rolled out an all-new music therapy program conceived by an unlikely source: a chassidic music superstar.
“Lipa has been visiting hospitals for a long time and has seen firsthand how it has helped patients,” Americare’s vice president of program development, Peninah Mezei, told Olam Yehudi. “He approached us knowing that we are an advocate of quality care and feeling that this could really be a great idea to offer our seniors. He felt he could really improve the quality of our patients’ lives.”
MusiCare launched in the fall of 2014 and since that time Schmeltzer has been visiting with patients throughout the New York City area. While not all patients are Holocaust survivors, many are.
“Somehow music is one of the last things to go in a person’s brain,” noted Mezei. “Even people who lose their memory very often remember music so it is a very powerful tool for connecting with them; you see what a difference it makes in people’s lives.”
Schmeltzer’s improvisational talents have been useful in his MusiCare work.
“One man told Lipa some of his life history and Lipa made a song out of it on the spot,” recalled Mezei. “It was so special and so beautiful to see his reaction.”
“Many people ask me to visit again and when I come, they know who I am and they always enjoy the visits,” said Schmeltzer. “Sometimes we learn Torah, sometimes we sing songs, sometimes I just come to say hello. I check up on them, make sure they are okay and figure out how to react to each one. There are times that I come and my patients invite their einiklach or a room full of cousins and we all enjoy it together.”
The response from seniors has been incredible, according to Schmeltzer.
“When I sing songs that remind them of the alte heim, 90 year olds get up and start to dance and tell me that they remember those songs from their early days. Sometimes I see how in one minute I sing a song and they go back in time to their youth.”
“We have gotten really amazing feedback,” added Mezei. “One family actually wrote us to tell us how incredible it was and what a wonderful experience it was. Lipa also went to one of my neighbors and sat down and sang songs – Hava Nagila, Bi Mir Bist Du Shein – it was a very emotional experience.”
Still in its infancy, MusiCare continues to evolve.
Schmeltzer said that he has gotten numerous calls from people about MusiCare, both from those who are interested in hearing him sing, as well as from others who would like to volunteer.
“I think we will see as the need goes,” said Mezei. “If we see that it is very valuable then perhaps one day we will expand but right now it is limited just to Lipa. We take it day by day, call by call.”