Uplifting Shavuot as Chev vaccinates residents and Holocaust survivors
Every single Chevrah Kadisha resident over 60, as well as most of Johannesburg’s Holocaust survivors, were vaccinated last week to their relief and that of their families.
“To say that there was overwhelming relief is an understatement,” says Benjy Porter, whose parents are residents at Sandringham Gardens.
The Chev’s chief executive, Saul Tomson, says, “The Department of Health visited us on International Nurses Day, and were impressed with our setup and ability to roll out mass vaccinations. We were told we would be given vaccines for our Sandringham Gardens residents, as many are the most frail and bedridden, and there is no way they can go to vaccination sites.
“We had no choice but to start on Shavuot with this life-saving mission,” Tomson says. “The reaction of the residents was heartwarming. Some of them were dancing and singing in celebration.”
According to Tomson, the Chev has ten qualified vaccinators and a pharmacy on site. As the first doses were given on Monday morning, he walked over from shul to witness them.
“It was really overwhelming. Later, dignitaries from the Department of Health, the premier’s office, and the MEC’s office arrived. We were one of 11 sites they initiated, but one of the only sites that used all our shots on the first day. So, they sent more the next day and so on for the rest of the week. This was how we were able to vaccinate all residents across all our facilities. They kept sending and we kept vaccinating, working late into the evenings at times.
“At the end of the week, we realised that we would have a few left over, and we sought permission to vaccinate Holocaust survivors in Johannesburg,” he says.
“We are mindful that Holocaust survivors don’t do well in queues, so we brought them to Sandringham Gardens. It was very emotional.” Sadly, some survivors have lost their lives to the pandemic, so the Chev was eager to help those that it could.
“We wanted to show them they haven’t been forgotten. Their story requires us to go above and beyond the call of duty, with extra care and compassion.”
Porter’s mother, Joan Porter, says she is grateful that the Chev prioritised her husband, knowing that he had to have five days between his vaccination and his chemotherapy.
“It was done magnificently. A nurse came to fetch us and our IDs were checked. We were asked if we had any fears [about the vaccine] as well as allergies and health issues. We were told it might be sore as it’s a long needle, and shown what to do if it hurts. It was very quick. Afterwards, we were taken for tea and coffee and given two Panados!”
“We are so thrilled and relieved that we got vaccinated,” she says, describing the atmosphere among residents as “positive” and the process as “very professional”.
Clara Taub, a resident of Our Parents Home, admits that she was both apprehensive and full of hope. “COVID-19 has been with us for almost a year and a half. We have all been in a state of limbo during that time, but now we have a vaccine, and maybe that will help to alleviate the stress and loneliness we feel,” she says.
Describing the chatter between the residents as they were told they would finally get their jabs, she recalls how some asked, “Will it hurt?”, “How will it feel?”, and “Do I really want to go into the unknown?”
“How is it going to work, we wonder? I sit and give the sister my arm. ‘Ready?’ I nod and breathe. ‘All over.’ Wow, that was quick, and I didn’t feel anything! I have to go and sit with the others who have had their injections. I’m given a red sticker with the time on it. ‘You must wait for 25 minutes,’ the matron says. Well, now it’s all over and I go to lunch. ‘Any reaction?’ is the question going round the dining room. ‘I feel very tired,’ says one resident. ‘Will we be able to go to the shops now?’ says another. The next day, we all have sore arms, but the soreness doesn’t last. Now we wait for the second shot!”
Tomson says the Chev has since spent a lot of time educating residents about vaccines and has explained that immunity begins only after two weeks. Returning to some sense of normality is still a long journey, but for him, it’s a miracle that this momentous step has been taken.
“As the numbers creep up towards a third wave, the risk profile hasn’t changed. In time, we will look at increasing residents’ movements responsibly while maintaining a cautious approach.”
Jack Shmukler, who is turning 85 next week, is one of the Holocaust survivors who was given the vaccine. From surviving the Shoah by hiding in holes in the forest at the age of three to a global pandemic, Shmukler really has seen and survived it all. Now, the vaccine is one step closer to him enjoying the full and blessed life he has built up in South Africa.
“COVID-19 has been very hard on him and the whole family,” says his wife, Denise. “We led a very active life before the pandemic hit.” Her husband has also battled health issues, and going to hospital during the pandemic hasn’t been easy. “So, we were thrilled to get the vaccine. There’s no way we could have gone to vaccination sites and stood in a queue.”
Says Porter, “I feel immense gratitude to the Chev and Hashem that my parents were lucky enough to get a vaccine. I think it’s an enormous privilege.”