Gift of compassion

Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim member Lillian Goldberg has led a Chanukah gift-giving effort for nursing home residents for 20 years. Photo by Daniel Schere
Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim member Lillian Goldberg has led a Chanukah gift-giving effort for nursing home residents for 20 years.
Photo by Daniel Schere

When Chanukah comes around this year, falling on the same night as Christmas Eve, Jewish residents of non-Jewish nursing homes will be surrounded by red and green. But as she has for 20 years, Rockville resident Lillian Goldberg will see to it that they receive Chanukah gifts from the Jewish community.

Goldberg, 94, leads a team of volunteers from the Sisterhood of Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim in Silver Spring, who assemble about 200 gift bags. They include toiletries, Chanukah gelt and snacks. The volunteers sew the bags by hand and take them to the nursing homes. This year will be Goldberg’s last as the head of the project.

“I’m getting too old for this,” she said.

Goldberg said she started the project after watching loved ones in a nursing home with nothing to do.
“It’s seeing people that are not taken care of,” she said. “Not that they’re cruel to them, but you have to make arrangements before you put them into a nursing home. I just felt so hurt that here I have friends, I have family — and they’re sitting there with their head down.”

Part of the problem, Goldberg noted, is that when the children of nursing home residents go out of town for the holidays, their elders can become lonely. With the holiday focus on Christmas, it can become particularly isolating.

To prepare for each year’s gift giving, Goldberg puts together a spreadsheet with each nursing home and the number of Jewish residents at each one. Men and women are counted separately since they receive slightly different gift bags. Her list from 2014 listed 12 nursing homes in Montgomery County, with between five and 21 Jewish residents each.

“I’ll call these places about two weeks before Chanukah and they say, ‘We’ve been waiting for your call,’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, how many people do you have there?’ she said.

She also writes letters to doctors and medical companies, asking for donations or thanking them for past participation.

“Thanks to kind people like you, the program is working out well, the residents don’t feel forgotten and now they look forward to Chanukah,” she wrote to Rockville dentist Martin Abel this year.

Goldberg has been doing the project so long that she now has a box of gifts in her basement along with several unstuffed bags that were sewn in previous years.

In keeping with tradition, the Conservative synagogue’s sisterhood will hold a bag assembly party on Dec. 18. About 30 volunteers will form an assembly line and stuff the bags. It is usually a festive event with music, said Sisterhood president Sharon Cohany. She said Goldberg’s project is one of compassion.

“She felt by making these gift bags that [Jewish residents will] know that they are being thought of,” she said.

Goldberg said she has known the importance of charity since she was a girl growing up in the Bronx, N.Y. She tried to pass on the same values to her children.

“You’re brought up to see people that need help sometimes,” she said. “Everything in my house is mitzvah. You have to help people.”

After two decades, Goldberg says she has seen the results of her project in the community.

“It’s a really gratifying thing when you speak to people that are not from your congregation, that are not from your neighborhood, and they know about it,” she said.

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