With the region’s hottest June in history and more heat in July, Jewish organizations that serve the elderly have been working hard to keep seniors safe.
“Elders are very vulnerable to extreme heat so we don’t want people going outside, even for short amounts of time, when the temperature and humidity is high,” Jill Tura, executive director of the Katzman Family Center for Living at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare, said in an email.
Four Chelsea Jewish Lifecare programs that share the same campus in Chelsea – the Katzman center, the Leonard Florence Center for Living, Cohen Florence Levine Estates, and Florence & Chafetz Memory and Specialized Care – offer outdoor concerts in the early evening when there’s shade.
Throughout the day, residents can be inside with air conditioning and participate in group activities, from bead-making classes to a Yiddish schmooze with Rabbi Asher Bronstein. Another option is a “Mystery Ride” on a 32-seat air conditioned bus that takes residents on tours of the area, from downtown Boston to Marblehead Neck.
Ellen Gordon, director of residential life at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare, said in an email that at the Harriet and Ralph Kaplan Estates assisted living and the Jeffrey and Susan Brudnick Center for Living – both in Peabody – “[during] times of extreme heat, we focus on the many activities available to our residents” at both sites, which range from current events discussions to Zumba.
The Katzman Family Center also offers many indoor activities – including concerts streamed on Zoom – and welcomes family visits. As is also the case at the Kaplan Estates and the Brudnick Center, the Katzman Center provides cold treats such as Popsicles to its residents.
At the Brighton-based nonprofit 2Life Communities – a nonsectarian residence that was founded as the Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly – there are multiple resources for residents who stay indoors or go outside.
When there’s a heat advisory, 2Life Communities informs residents through an automatic one-call system similar to a public service announcement and signs posted in community spaces. 2Life Communities also suggests measures such as using sunscreen and hydrating.
“We make sure all of our neighbors pay attention to drinking more, sitting in the shade; pay attention to their vitals, [and] not get dehydrated,” said Lizbeth Heyer, chief of real estate and innovation for 2Life Communities. “We often provide drinks.”
Heyer noted that 2Life has a “robust fitness program for all our residents,” including a walking club, and keeps residents informed of such tips as “head out early in the day or later in the evening when it’s cooler out to walk.”
Heyer said all of the residences had air conditioners. “In a senior living space, it is vital for health in older adults,” she said.
Elsewhere, seniors face the problem of air conditioners breaking down and a lack of financial resources to repair them. The Waltham-based Yad Chessed social service agency has provided help in this regard several times this summer.
“We sometimes get requests from our clients for an air conditioner if their unit’s broken, if their window unit’s broken,” said Susan Barron, the director of client services for Yad Chessed. “Sometimes we can pay for a new air conditioner unit for them.”
Yad Chessed serves Jewish individuals and families who face financial difficulty and its clients include people throughout the North Shore.
“So many people are having difficulties, particularly during [COVID-19],” Barron said.
“We have a number of Holocaust survivors and a very big Russian-speaking population of elders we help.”
Although neither Barron nor Heyer could say how much the extreme heat of this summer has compared with summers’ past, they did mention that it’s been noticeable in 2021.
“I’m not sure whether it’s hotter this summer than other summers,” Barron said. “I do know the pandemic has really isolated our population, our clients. A lot of them are quite worried about it. They feel like they can’t go out as much – in the heat, certainly. People have spoken about it.”