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When COVID-19 hit the Bay Area, Israeli-American Jessica Hare knew she wanted to do something to help keep older adults safe. She immediately started looking for ways to volunteer and reached out to her friends at the Israeli American Council for ideas. They pointed her to JFCS, and after her first conversation with the volunteer coordinator, she knew JFCS was the right fit.
Born in Washington, D.C., Jessica grew up in Tel Aviv, Israel. The decision to move back to the US came when her husband received an opportunity to temporarily relocate to the Bay Area for work. With two young children, they thought the multicultural experience would be a brief and excellent adventure. Five years later, they are still living in Foster City.
Like many parents dealing with the added pressures of life during the pandemic, Jessica admits it has been difficult to juggle everything while homeschooling two children. Volunteering, she feels, is a way to nurture herself as well as her community.
“When I volunteer, I have a smile on my face, and I feel good. It gives me energy to know that I’m doing something that will help someone else,” says Jessica.
An Unexpected Connection
Jessica looks forward to Wednesdays, the day she prepares bags of groceries at the JFCS Food Bank to bring to Helen, age 80, and her husband Tom, who is 92. Helen and Tom both suffer from serious health conditions, so when the pandemic made it dangerous for them to leave their house, they worried that they would be without food and necessities.
Helen says, “We didn’t know where to turn. I was so relieved when I called JFCS, and they said they had volunteers who would do our shopping for us.”
Each week, Jessica calls Helen ahead of time to talk about Helen’s shopping list, and the conversation always meanders to Jessica’s children and life in general. Over time, the two have formed an unexpected friendship. Most surprising to Jessica is the meaningful connection her children have made with Helen as well.
Jessica says, “My children would ask me where I was going, and I’d tell them about the nice lady that I was helping. Soon, my kids were making cards for Helen and putting them in the grocery bags to make her happy.”
These cards meant more to Helen than Jessica’s children could have ever known.
Toys on the Doorstep
Two years ago, Helen and Tom lost their oldest son to cancer. Still visibly shaken from losing him, Helen holds back the tears as she shares the story.
“We held on to his toys thinking that one day he’d have children and we could pass the toys down to them. When Jessica’s little ones gave us the cards, we realized there was someone else we could give the toys to,” says Helen.
Now, when Jessica drops groceries on Helen and Tom’s doorstep, she often finds toys there to bring home to her kids.
Banding Together With the Bay Area Israeli Community
Jessica is one of over 2,000 JFCS volunteers who have heroically stepped up during the pandemic to help those impacted by the crisis. Members of the Bay Area Israeli community were among the first to sign up and start delivering food and supplies to isolated seniors. Jessica believes it is because Israelis are used to getting through tough situations together, and they understand that they are stronger as a community.
She says, “Israelis are resilient! We just keep moving forward, and we remember to help those in need along the way.”
The special connection between JFCS and the Bay Area Israeli community is one that has been building over time, thanks to the leadership of JFCS Board member Oded Hermoni. Oded, an Israeli transplant himself, says that while there are at least 50,000 Israeli-Americans in the Bay Area, local Jewish organizations were not reaching them.
“JFCS took the bold steps to address the needs of Israeli-Americans and to leverage their ability to come together as a community in difficult times,” says Oded.
With Oded’s leadership, JFCS developed an initiative to offer critical services in Hebrew for everything from parenting, children’s mental health, and divorce to immigration and financial challenges. And when the pandemic crisis hit, JFCS and the Israeli community banded together to immediately help those in need.
“Helping in emergency times is embedded in Israeli culture,” says Oded.
The Circle of Giving
Jessica feels that the time she spends volunteering is helping her family just as much as it helps Helen and Tom. “My children see me visit the JFCS Food Bank and bring the food to someone who needs help,” Jessica shares. “They’re learning about mitzvahs and an important a part of our culture.”
For Helen, the vital connection she feels with Jessica has brought everything full circle.
“Jessica has helped us so much during this time,” she says. “It’s amazing—years ago, Tom and I would drive into San Francisco and donate clothes to JFCS, and now the community is helping us.”
JFCS is providing emergency assistance to those who have been impacted by the pandemic crisis. See all of our services during COVID-19 >
Food Runners like Jessica are still needed! Apply to volunteer now >
Funds are urgently needed to help the most vulnerable in our community. Donate to the JFCS Community Emergency Fund >