| Shul with a View |

One for the Ages

You are not alone. I feel the same isolation as you


When Sylvia Rubin* arrived at the assisted living complex, her sole emotion was loneliness.

At 61, Sylvia had made the cut to be granted the privilege of being part of the facility; however, the last thing she felt was privileged. She was consumed with a sense of misery and melancholy.

Sylvia was younger than every other resident. She did not see anyone under seventy. But despite her relative youth, the passing of her husband, coupled with her own struggles, forced her to move to the facility.

When the first Shabbos arrived, loneliness was still her only companion. As she entered the shul, numerous walkers were seen, and more than a few women were wheelchair users. And when she reached for a siddur, she couldn’t help but notice how many large-print siddurim there were. The presence of many aides added to her sense of isolation.

When scarcely any women stood for hagba’ah, Sylvia’s spirits sank even further, and tears began streaming down her cheeks.

At that moment, Mati Kuggelman* noticed Sylvia’s tears and felt her loneliness, and immediately after davening, Mati sprang into action. Mati, who looked much younger than her 70 years, welcomed Sylvia with a warm “Good Shabbos!” and insisted Sylvia join her at the kiddush. And thus began a three-year relationship that not only allowed Sylvia to survive in her new community but was the catalyst for her to thrive in a way she could never imagine.

They attended the rabbi’s weekly parshah class.

And they were the first on the dance floor for Israeli dance night.

They walked the mile path surrounding the facility every morning and then had coffee together at the clubhouse.

It was Mati who convinced Sylvia she was needed at the facility and that her younger age was an asset, as she could assist others who weren’t as mobile.

In a short time, Sylvia’s entire outlook had changed. She no longer viewed herself as an outlier and misfit who did not belong. Rather, she felt, along with her friend Mati, that she was being granted the opportunity by Hashem to help others less able to navigate life at the facility.

Mati was Sylvia’s confidante and constant companion. Yet Sylvia never knew Mati’s true medical condition.

It was Motzaei Pesach when the news reached Sylvia that her dear friend Mati had passed away on Acharon shel Pesach.

Sylvia was devastated.

At the levayah, Sylvia sat and listened to Mati’s son speak about his mother. She was shocked when he mentioned how his mother had filled every day of her 73 years in This World with chesed. She could not believe what she had heard and began to sob uncontrollably.

Mati’s son hurried to Sylvia’s side, and reassured Sylvia that his mother had cherished their relationship and thanked Sylvia for being his mother’s best friend.

As he tried his best to console her, Sylvia, amid her sobbing, kept saying, “You don’t understand.”

“What don’t I understand?” asked Mati’s son.

“When your mother first met me, I told her how lonely I felt being younger than everyone else. Your mother convinced me that I was not alone and all would be fine. I asked her, ‘How will all be fine? I’m the only woman here under 65!’ Your mother looked me straight in the eyes. I still remember how she paused and told me the words that changed my outlook and made me feel whole again. She said, ‘Sylvia, You are not alone. I feel the same isolation as you. I may look a bit older, but I’m also just 62 and I share your pain.’

“I now know the truth. However, at the time, those words changed my life.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 963)

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