Menu JTA Search

Argentine Elderly Center Struggles, but Provides a ‘home’ for Its Residents

The Argentine Israelite Home for the Elderly is a place of worn-out sheets and cracked floors.

But this house on the outskirts of Buenos Aires is believed to be the only home in the country for needy elderly Jews.

“People tend to exclude what they don’t want to see: the old and the poor. For sure this” place “is for the old and poor, but it does not mean that people can’t find a fine living,” the service director of the home, Diana Farji, told JTA. “We’d rather call this a home.”

But the Home for the Elderly is suffering from Argentina’s economic troubles.

A few weeks ago, the home celebrated its 87th birthday with an outing for its 240 residents. Another 90 people are on a waiting list to get in.

The average age of the home’s residents is 83. They receive free care, clothing, spiritual and recreational activities and kosher food suitable for people with diabetes, renal problems, diarrhea and hypertension.

Organizers of the home try to let residents practice the occupations they had before they entered the home: some repair shoes, others paint walls.

A group of former businesspeople is in charge of a shop that sells things to neighbors and to some of the 200 employees that work at the home.

There also are cultural activities — such as meditation groups, painting exhibitions, film projections and literary workshops — as well as pool and chess tournaments.

“Residents can go out and relatives are allowed to visit without any timetable restriction,” said Farji, a red-haired psychologist who soon will turn 50.

However, around 60 percent of the residents have no relatives. Even those who still have children don’t always receive visits.

The residents’ sons and daughters are more preoccupied with how to subsist in the present crisis, and how to make a living for their own children.

“People are lonely here,” Farji says, seated in front of her desk, filled with cigarettes, two lighters, two ashtrays, a Spanish drink called mate and nail polish remover.

The loneliness is exacerbated by the increased number of Argentine Jews who are leaving the country to escape the economic problems.

And loneliness is not the only problem: Private donations to the center have decreased by 40 percent since March, Farji says.

“We are receiving help from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. But it is mainly being used to maintain daily life. We are not able to plan infrastructure or medical developments,” she says.

Despite these problems, the home — which consists of several buildings located in a tree-filled, 40-acre park — continues to function.

Outside Farji’s busy office, the buildings are surrounded by silence. It is a hot December afternoon, siesta time.

Corridors have low lights, there are rails in every wall and no carpets. Bedpans sit at every corner.

There are gently smiling people walking slowly, dressed in shirts and suits – – formally dressed, despite their poor health.

In its first years, the home — then housed in a different building — also served children who were orphaned during World War I. Nowadays, since the home no longer serves children, its biggest needs are medicines, diapers and an ambulance.

Each resident costs the equivalent of $330 a month, Farji says.

Although they are delayed in paying staff and taxes, home officials make sure every resident has his or her medicines, food, diapers, toilet elements, access to doctors and recreational activities.

Despite the infrastructure problems — an old house, donated during the 1940s by a Spanish philanthropist shocked by the horror of World War II — there’s not enough money for more residents.

“As soon as someone dies, a new resident comes in,” Farji says.

Moises Worf Liberman, 81, and Rosendo Ludvac, 84, share Room 26 at the Jaim Weitzman area. A former printer, Liberman arrived at Burzaco two years ago.

Until he goes to sleep, after midnight, he walks all day carrying his old portable radio. He loves playing pool and drinking mate.

“I always find someone to talk to. I feel like in a family. A big family,” he says. “It’s hard for me to get used to living here. I have three grandsons. I miss them.”

“What is your last name, dear?,” Ludvac asks this reporter.

“Arbiser,” he says, repeating the answer. “It sounds so familiar. Some 50 years ago, at my printing shop, an Arbiser was a client of mine,” Liberman says, impeccable in his sky-blue shirt. “We are all a mishpocha.”

NEXT STORY