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Seniors and Holocaust survivors get Covid vaccine in Lawrence


Vehicles pulled into the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC Harrison-Kerr Family Campus and staff and volunteers and staff and student volunteers from the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway High School helped the 150 seniors, which included 60 Holocaust survivors, to receive a first dose of the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccination on Sunday.

The Gural JCC in partnership with the UJA-Federation of New York and Northwell Health created a pop-up vaccination site for the seniors and survivors, and Northwell health care providers administered doses of the vaccine. The second dose will given in three weeks at the same site, inside the Temple of Lawrence building.

“We all know how difficult it is to navigate the system if you don’t have technological ability to go online and you need people to help and take you to and from your appointments, said Eric Goldstein, the UJA’s chief executive officer, outside Temple Israel as the seniors and survivors got out of cars and were helped inside. “This is just so, so touching and meaningful for us, and to be able to see it in action is very special.”

Accessing the information for sites and vaccine availability bedevils those not familiar with computers. Goldstein said. “So, the beauty of this is that we are working with our local partners on the ground who know this population because they deal with it year in and year out, they know who needs assistance. They gave us names, we’re putting together the lists and we’re working with Northwell and other medical providers to get us the dosages, so you can have vaccine pop-up sites like this across our community to start doing this in a broad way.”

Gural JCC CEO Aaron Rosenfeld called it “just a tremendously wonderful day for our  community,” crediting the UJA and Northwell for the assist in making the pop-up site a reality.  “We spend our days helping to support and enhance the community, and there is nothing that feels better than being able to save lives, which is what we are doing today, really, we are saving lives,” he said.

Out of the 150 people inoculated, the most anticipated arrival was of Woodmere residents Bonnie, 97, and Jack Rybsztajn, 96, Holocaust survivors, who celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in February. “I personally, on behalf of my wife and myself and my family, I’m thankful for Hashem (God) for keeping me [strong],” he said as he was helped from his car by Gural JCC Associate Executive Director Cathy Byrne and State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat who represents the Five Towns.

Kaminsky noted the UJA’s Holocaust survivor program, which he said is “among their most meaningful.” “I think sometimes people forget that we have neighbors who are Holocaust survivors, many of whom who live at or below the poverty line, and they have incredible lives of perseverance and struggle and also happiness, and making sure that there is a community that serves them and that is them for them is really important,” he said.

The cornavirus pandemic began just before Passover last year and this year, the seniors and survivors, remaining careful could attend family or community Seders. “There is elation,” Goldstein said, “people have been living shut-in because they are fearful of going out. This is a passport to resuming their life.”