Mira, Abe and Selma's One Good Deed Journey

October 06, 2021

Mira, Abe and Selma's One Good Deed Journey

By Mira Cohen, One Good Deed Volunteer

In the early spring of 2020, I found myself burned out from years of constant online interaction. I’m a musician and social media content creator. The internet has surely become the thread of our social fabric, and during quarantine, it felt completely inescapable and overwhelming. The older adult population was significantly affected by the pandemic – not just by Covid itself, but by the isolation. I decided to look for ways to help people in the Atlanta community, perhaps those that did not have access to the features of the internet [that I was, frankly, taking for granted].

Naturally, I used the internet to search for a local volunteer program. I happen to be Jewish and worked with older adults in Israel as a college student, so JF&CS of Atlanta seemed like a great place to start. I was immediately drawn to the Aviv Older Adult Services department. I was particularly interested in One Good Deed (OGD), a friendly visitor program that matches volunteers with seniors. I submitted a volunteer application, spoke with Deena Takata of Volunteer Services, had an intake call with Vivienne Kurland of OGD, and was accepted as a volunteer. Due to Covid, Viv told me that OGD was only matching people as a “phone friends”, and I was soon matched with Abe and his wife Selma.

Abe and Selma have been married for 69 years. They finish each other’s sentences, and they tend to take phone calls at the same time from separate phones in the same house. They are very independent, and I was warned that they may not feel that they need a volunteer. The joke is on all of us because I think I was the one who needed this friendship the most. I was initially matched with Abe because he has a passion for music, and I’m a singer. My first phone call was met with some apprehension, but genuine kindness. We exchanged pleasantries, got past the fact that I am a random human from the other end of a phone line, and I told them about myself.

I was initially prepared for a tough crowd, but instead I was met with a curious and friendly audience. They asked about my family, my interests, etc. I asked them if I should call at a certain time, and they proceeded to make jokes like, “we will have to check our busy schedule”. We decided upon 4 pm on Fridays, right before Shabbat.

Each Friday, I’d learn more about their lives. I was told how they first met, learned about their family, discussed what they like to cook, and they shared their opinions on the Atlanta weather. Selma is from Brooklyn, and Abe is originally from Poland. After a few months, I learned that Selma grew up on the same street as my paternal grandfather. (It is a very long street in Brooklyn, but still a small-ish world!) My mother’s father was from Poland, just like Abe. My weekly calls with Abe and Selma began to remind me of chats with my grandparents. All my grandparents are now deceased, and I’m lucky to have had a wonderful relationship with both sets, but I wish I had called them more often in my late teenage years.

Abe also happens to be a Holocaust survivor. Despite what he’s lived through, he always focuses on the positive in every situation. He reminds me to be present and to enjoy life. Earlier this year, I began writing down quotes from Abe. He mentions every week that we can’t stop time, we can only keep going. “Time stops for no one,” he’ll gently remind me. He also has said, “The mind, it works – sometimes with you and sometimes against you. You can choose if you want to do business.” Both Abe and Selma effortlessly give profound advice without even meaning to.

I have always had a great love and respect for older adults. There is so much time and experience to learn from. It’s a priceless gift. Unbeknownst to them, Abe and Selma began to change my life. At the end of our phone call one time, Abe said, “You should call your father.” I laughed and asked him why he suggested such a thing. I told him I spoke to him recently. His response was, “because you can, my dear.” My dad has now been added to the official Friday phone call line-up. My dad will answer the phone with, “So what did Abe have to say today?” He loves hearing about Abe and Selma. Also, whenever it rains, I think of Abe because he’ll say, “hey, everything and everyone needs water. Rain is okay. Let’s not worry about rain.” He’s inspiring, and he also happens to be one of the funniest people I know. He and Selma are an example of true commitment and support in a relationship. I admire their rapport and ability to laugh with each other. Our phone calls are the highlight of my week.

Last month, I had the opportunity to give Abe and Selma a Rosh Hashanah gift bag from One Good Deed. After more than a year of speaking on the phone every week, I could finally meet them face-to-face! I was a bit nervous. I didn’t want them to feel pressured to talk to me for too long. I brought my boyfriend with me, and the four of us stood outside talking for an hour. Selma and Abe were so friendly and welcoming to my boyfriend, and Selma even asked him why he hasn’t proposed yet. Honestly, we all need a friend like Selma. Abe and I laughed while he gracefully navigated the endearing interrogation. We were all able to finally put faces to names, and we enjoyed a wonderful conversation on their front steps. We were also able to take a photo together, and it meant so much to all of us to be able to speak in person.

I know they appreciate my phone calls because they tell me every single week now. Abe has even shifted his nap schedule for my phone calls at times – for which I could not be more honored! They say it’s nice to have an extra person thinking of them. It’s a privilege to be part of their life in this small way, but they have no idea how much they have impacted my life.

I’m so grateful for One Good Deed and Aviv Older Adult Services. I’m also so glad that I was directed to JF&CS of Atlanta. These programs we have available to us, and the services JF&CS provides, are so important to our community. JF&CS is certainly changing lives – I know they’ve changed mine, and Abe and Selma play a large role in that. If you’re looking for a volunteer match program that puts real care and consideration into the connections they establish, look no further. Reach out to One Good Deed.

At the end our phone call one day, Abe said, “Give them my best.” I laughed and asked, “who do you mean?” He replied, “Everyone dear, just everyone. Give them my best. I always want to give my best to anyone. Always give the best you have.” Abe always gives his best, and I’m trying to do the same. Let’s take a page from Abe and Selma’s book: Let’s always give our best, whenever we can.