You think when you are over eighty years old, you are not able to make an impact anymore?
This man will prove you wrong! Charles is not only 87 years old and therefore our oldest volunteer, but also a Covid survivor. This Chanukah I had the honor to join him and his family for their tour through Brussels.
Most people that stay informed with the EJCC already know our Yachad project, where our amazing volunteers visit different people all around Brussels to not only bring them our homemade Shabbat gifts but also spend some time with them. Our volunteers visit all kinds of people, no matter if it is a person recovering from a disease or a young family that has just welcomed a newborn. The focus of these visits, however, is especially on the people that are really in need of a warm gesture and are very happy about the human contact. Especially in the times of Covid, our visits have developed a completely different importance and we have noticed that interpersonal relationships have a very big impact on the health of all of us.
But we do no only have all different kinds of recipients, also our volunteers come from various backgrounds and different age groups.
During our big Chanukah Yachad program, where we, thanks to our volunteers, managed to see 400 people, I had the honor to accompany a very special volunteer on his visits. Meet Charles, our oldest volunteer (87). When he suffered from Covid last year, the doctors told his daughter Giselle, that the chances he would survive the disease were very low. Nevertheless, Charles fought the virus with the help of his supporting family and managed to fully recover. Since then he is involved in the Yachad project and helps spread joy and a sense of community all around Brussels.
When I arrive in Uccle, his neighborhood, I see Giselle already standing next to their car and waving friendly in my direction.
“I am really just the driver here. My dad is behind all of this. He enjoys talking to all these people, so I am doing this for him.” Giselle tells me while we are waiting for her father.
With fifteen gifts carefully stored in their trunk, we are ready to leave for our tour.
In the car I also met Giselle’s parents for the first time. Charles is a tall man, with wide shoulders and a warm smile. When I look at him there is not the slightest hint that he was ever hospitalized for Covid. He is greeting me with a firm handshake and introduces me to his wife, a petite lady with red hair. Both speak perfect German, since Giselle’s mother grew up in Germany and taught the language to her husband.
On our way in the car Charles starts telling me a bit about the recipients that we are going to visit. He seems to know them all very well and says that he is visiting some of them even on a regular basis. For example, an elderly lady to whom he warmly refers to as “Madame Chocolat”. She got her nickname as she would always carry some chocolate with her for the children. I also met another of Charles’ friends that is called Harry. Charles tells me that Harry has an interesting life story. Born in the UK, he became a soldier and fought in the Korean war. My absolute favorite visit though was in a retirement home. We went there to see Marie. Charles tells me that she doesn’t have any living family left, so he tries to see her as often as possible. When we enter the retirement home a real scavenger hunt starts. Since we cannot find Marie in her room, we start asking around where she could be. After being sent to the common room, some sort of fitness class and the canteen, we finally find her at the retirement home’s own little hairdresser. All the trouble searching for her is definitely worth it though, when I see her face lighting up the second she recognizes Charles. She greets him like an old friend. When it was time to leave Marie to see the rest of the people we want to visit, he promises her to come back soon.
At the end of the day, I am tired but very happy. Talking to Charles was inspiring in many ways. He seems like the kind of person that doesn’t just give up when things don’t work out. Being around him and his family, for me, really reflected the sense of Chanukah, of light, optimism and dedication. Therefore, I want to thank Charles and his whole family warmly again for taking me with them and having such an amazing impact with their contribution to the Yahad project.
Please note that most of the names in this article have been changed due to the wishes of the family.
by Linn Lämmle