Cafe Europa on Emek Refaim

by Simone Cohen Scott

It is well understood that loneliness is one of the most prevalent conditions of the elderly.  If the aged are not plagued by fear of outliving their income, they are locked into the monotony of empty days.  Some turn to memories for company and comfort.  For others, memories are a very bad place, one to be avoided.

Like rare jewels slipping out of grasp, Jerusalem treasures its holocaust survivors, as their numbers inevitably decrease.  Great effort is taken by government social services, in conjunction with the Jerusalem Foundation, to ensure these special people live out their declining years with dignity and grace.  Weekly gatherings dotted around Jerusalem, called Cafes Europa, provide social get-togethers for company, culture, and conversation. I was invited to visit the one located on famous Emek Refaim. I expected a dark experience.  I was wrong!  One could not find a more congenial, even sophisticated, group of people with whom to spend a couple of hours.  The tasty buffet luncheon, professional entertainers from a top musical theatre company, lively discussions encompassing a variety of perspectives, were all utterly enjoyable.

Cafe Europa Photo 2

And there’s more!  Support at every level is provided.  Benefits that might be forthcoming, e.g. reparation payments or increased pensions, are spotted, and qualifying recipients can access a lawyer for the application process.  Assistance is available to negotiate other bureaucracies, too, for both survivors and their families.

The cafe I visited accommodates English speakers.  There are five more of these stimulating social clubs around the city: one each in the southern and western neighbourhoods; one which chooses to be called Cafe Moscow; and two which serve Haredi communities.  These cafe projects are an excellent idea, accommodating about 300 participants. The homebound, (80 to 100 individuals) receive mobile services, including libraries, etc.  Still, there are 22,000 Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem.  Much more needs to be done.

Cafe Europa Photo 3