February 24, 2021

The “Big 5” of Global Connections: Part IV

Amir Shacham Associate Executive Vice President, Global Connections
Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ

The main attraction of a safari is to watch the wild animals in their natural habitat. The local guides always set a highly ambitious goal on the first day: “If we are lucky enough,” they would dramatically state, “understanding the lay of the land and keeping an optimistic spirit, we will be able to see the Big 5.” (The “Big 5” are the five royal animals of Africa: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and cape buffalo.) And in a miraculous way, by the end of each safari trip, this ambitious goal is usually met.

Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, through its Global Connections arm, has set similar ambitious goals. We developed our own “Big 5” Initiative at the onset of and in response to COVID-19. Like the safari guides say, “with some luck, understanding the lay of the land, and lots of optimistic spirit” we will be successful.

Our “Big 5” are:
1. Partnerships Network Model
2. Kehila
3. Rishonim Chai
4. Uniper
5. Leaders for Cohesive Society

Today I will focus on Uniper:

It is not that often that our vision of mutual Responsibility, arvut hadadit, is demonstrated so clearly. The Uniper Care Initiative was one of these occasions, back in March. Sadly, the global COVID pandemic, which had just started, was the trigger: The Israeli Steering Committee of our Negev Partnerships was meeting to plan ahead. No one really knew at that point what is going to happen in our world, but one thing was clear to this group: Whatever program they adopted as a response to COVID should also include an impact on the New Jersey side of the partnership. This is the true meaning of our Jewish Peoplehood notion: We are one.

We all knew that the elderly population was becoming particularly isolation during this situation and therefore needed special attention. We also knew that the technology skill needed to stay connected during a pandemic could be a challenge to this generation. We needed to find something that was both simple and fun.

Uniper, an Israeli tech company, gave us the ultimate solution: They have developed a devise that is connected to the regular existing TV sets at the homes of the users. Through this devise, with a simple remote control and basic training, seniors can consume special programs and content. But even more importantly, an attached camera and microphone allows them to proactively participate in interactive encounters with their peers and their family members.

To get a better understanding of the capabilities, the Joint Steering Committee decided to pilot Uniper in our four Negev Partnerships (Ofakim, Merchavim, Erez, and Arad) as well as in Union County New Jersey. Our original investment allowed 20 units in each location, but we quickly realized that our famous optimistic spirit paid off and the initiative grew exponentially: In Israel the Social Affairs Ministry added hundreds more units in our partnerships. In NJ, through the generosity of major private donations and the efforts of Greater MetroWest CARES and Jewish Family Service of Central NJ (JFS), we were able to triple the number of its Uniper users. Now being managed locally by JFS as The Ross Family Virtual Senior Center, the program enables users to turn their TV or mobile device into a Uniper interactive window giving them access to activities and lectures; a library of programs; connections to family and JFS staff; and so much more. For more information, you can visit their website here.

A particularly meaningful moment was in December, when our Israeli and New Jersey’s Uniper users gathered together for a Hannukah party. Each one of them physically in their private homes but spiritually, through us, united together as one community. It was an emotional moment. I have conducted many Living Bridge encounters over the years but have never seen something like that. Our seniors helped us shape our vision and crystallize it: This was a pure Arevut and Peoplehood moment. Take pride.