‘She’s there to hold my hand’

‘She’s there to hold my hand’

B’Lev Shalem helps English-speaking Israelis when their elderly parents make aliyah

Estie and Joel Bryk stand behind the wheelchair of Ms. Bryk’s mother, Rosalyn Zelig, as she gets off the plane. To the right are three generations of family who came to greet her.
Estie and Joel Bryk stand behind the wheelchair of Ms. Bryk’s mother, Rosalyn Zelig, as she gets off the plane. To the right are three generations of family who came to greet her.

Wendy Borodkin made aliyah from Teaneck three and a half years ago. About two years later she began planning her mother’s move to Israel from Whippany. Relocating to another continent is never easy, but this was even more complicated because her mother would need a full-time aide and an appropriate living environment.

Faced with mountains of paperwork and bureaucracy to navigate in Hebrew, Ms. Borodkin turned to a business called B’Lev Shalem, Hebrew for “With a Whole Heart.”

B’Lev Shalem provides long-term care management and short-term crisis management throughout all aspects of aging in Israel, working with Israel-based and overseas adult children of immigrants or returning citizens from the English-speaking countries that Israelis call “Anglo” — countries including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, South Africa, and Australia.

Ms. Borodkin, who lives in Jerusalem, said it took close to a year “to do everything that needed to be done to bring my mother here and get her set up, and there was no way I could have done it without them.”

Her care manager, Avigail Buiumsohn, is B’Lev Shalem’s clinical director and aliyah specialist. “Avigail helped me secure an aide and got my mother signed up for the social security she was entitled to here,” Ms. Borodkin said. “If I had any issues that came up along the way, she was able to help me.” Her mother arrived in Israel last June and spent nine months near her daughter; she died about three months ago.

Estie Bryk, who made aliyah from Woodmere, on Long Island, last August and whose brothers, David and Yossi Zelig, live in Teaneck, intended to bring her mom, Rosalyn Zelig, with her when she moved to Israel. But Ms. Zelig fell, and had to spend a few months recovering at the Jewish Home in Rockleigh before she was well enough to go to Israel in December.

During the five months in between her own aliyah and her mother’s, Ms. Bryk engaged B’Lev Shalem to help her put everything in place for Ms. Zelig’s arrival. “Avigail was indispensable” Ms. Bryk said. “She walked us through everything. We couldn’t have done it without her.

Avigail Buiumsohn (Photos courtesy Sarah Raanan)

“She interviewed my mom on Zoom to assess what kind of living situation she needed and chose something perfect. She helped us interview and hire a foreign worker. I’m still calling her when I have questions or help with paperwork. She’s there to hold my hand.”

Ms. Buiumsohn said that people whose elderly parents want to spend their sunset years in Israel often approach B’Lev Shalem, “and we find providing the right level of support that enables them to enjoy living here.”

Sharon Beth-Halachmy is B’Lev Shalem’s founder and CEO. “We’re not magicians,” Ms. Beth-Halachmy said. “We just know the system. We have the advantage of knowing what’s coming, what is needed, and how to access it. You could do it if you spoke Hebrew fluently and weren’t working and had all the time in the world — but if you don’t, we can do it better.”

Ms. Beth-Halachmy, an attorney who made aliyah from Chicago in 1998, calls B’Lev Shalem “a private company with the soul of a nonprofit.” The business is fee based, with hourly and monthly packages for different types of clients.

The idea originated with Chicago social worker and care manager Stacey Gordon, who wanted to bring American-style care management to Israel that would allow seniors to maintain their independence and quality of life.

“We teamed up in 2015 to think of how to introduce this to Israel, and in the end of 2016, I continued it on my own,” Ms. Beth-Halachmy said.

“It aligned with my entry into the sandwich generation as my parents were aging. As someone more ‘Anglo’ than Israeli culturally, I had a unique view into this experience of navigating the world of aging. I saw that this was where I was supposed to be. So I closed my legal practice and jumped in, with zero experience or education.”

Kaila Shimshak

She soon discovered that the U.S. model of care management had to be adapted to mesh with Israeli culture and socialized healthcare.

“Our services developed over the years to meet the real needs,” Ms. Beth-Halachmy said.

“Each of our professional care managers speaks English and Hebrew and has a deep understanding of both Anglo and Israeli culture, creating a critical bridge between both.”

Care manager Rachel Green grew up in Edison, lived in Teaneck for the first three years of her marriage, and moved to Israel 20 years ago. She’s been at B’Lev Shalem since it began.

“I’m a trained speech pathologist and I always worked with the adult population,” she said. “When I came to Israel, I was raising my children, and then about seven years ago I decided to do something different and heard about this opportunity.”

One of the people whose care she manages is a 94-year-old woman in Jerusalem whose long-term insurance covers the B’Lev Shalem fee.

“She’s been here about 15 years,” Ms. Green said. “Her daughter lives up north and her three other children live in the U.S. I’ve been working with her for five years.

Rachel Green

“At first, she was fiercely independent. She liked having me come to visit but didn’t allow me to do anything to help her. Then she had a few falls and allowed me to bring in a full-time caregiver, and it changed her life completely. It gives her family peace of mind.”

Ms. Green accompanies the woman to all her medical appointments. “She doesn’t have dementia, but she relies on me to report the details to her family and to do follow-ups. Recently she’s had a hard time managing her money, so I have been helping her with that too.”

At any given time, Ms. Green handles 10 to 12 clients, and she is in constant touch with their families. “I don’t visit all of them weekly because they don’t all need direct care,” she said. “If there’s a crisis, I’ll come over.

“I think this kind of service is essential because there are so many older adults making aliyah on their own or living here without knowing the language, and they want to age in place.”

Ms. Beth-Halachmy said B’Lev Shalem makes sure that decisionmakers understand their options. “When you’re in the U.S. and trying to apply for social security benefits here, or need to talk to your parent’s doctor here, it’s very difficult,” she said. “We help them make decisions and navigate what can be a scary situation, wrap it in a support system, and put the pieces together.

“The real gift of care management is for people to know there is help when they need it, because the needs often come on suddenly and it’s very overwhelming.”

Sharon Beth-Halachmy

Sometimes elderly new immigrants have dementia or a medical condition that requires a healthcare professional to fly over with them. Others may not need assistance until they are hospitalized.

“There can be a medical emergency, and the family needs someone to be with the parent in the hospital and to help facilitate the discharge process,” Ms. Beth-Halachmy said. “We also help people transition from independent living to having a caregiver in the home or moving to a nursing home.”

Kaila Wruble Shimshak, who grew up in West Orange and made aliyah from Teaneck in 2008, is a licensed social worker who worked with the National Jewish Council for Disabilities as well as at a nursing home and a psychiatric rehabilitation treatment program in New Jersey. She has been a B’Lev Shalem care manager for five years.

“This service provides a level of comfort and reassurance that family members who are very far away do not have,” Ms. Shimshak said.

“Knowing that someone is close by and checking in on their loved ones is the number-one reason. Number two is they know their parents are being well taken care of or well advised, depending on their needs. Some need only guidance, because they are not as familiar with services here.

“Language plays a big part in the day-to-day managing of care in Israel, and I always make sure my clients go to doctors who speak English. But they may need assistance to converse with a pharmacist or nurse at the health clinic, and they depend on us to help with that.”

Deena Forman Schechterman, who grew up in Teaneck and made aliyah in 2001 with a master’s degree in social work, is one of B’Lev Shalem’s newest care managers.

It feels rewarding to “help people feel more independent and empowered, and to advocate for themselves with a little assistance,” Ms. Schechterman said.

read more: