This past February marked the fifth anniversary of The Temple Tifereth Israel’s involvement with Transplant House. As Transplant House grew, adding a second building of apartments in 2017 and a community and office space in 2019, and adapted to the challenges of the pandemic, the Temple’s support for our guests and for our organization has grown, too.
The Temple was first introduced to Transplant House by volunteer Judith Wolkoff, who is friends with the Temple’s Chair of their Social Justice Committee, Faith Schaffer. Faith was moved by Transplant House’s mission and brought it to the attention of Maureen Ordman, who is active in the Temple’s social action activities.
“I agreed to speak to Elaine,” Maureen recalls. “And she said if you want to provide a meal once, wonderful. If you want to do it once a month, or forever, that’s wonderful too.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Temple Tifereth’s involvement started with quarterly dinners. The Temple has provided holiday meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas, shared a Hanukkah celebration with house guests (complete with latkes, of course!), and hosted a chili dinner on the front lawn.
“On one of the hottest days in August,” Adds Joanie Rubinstein, who, along with Maureen, cochairs the Temple’s volunteer coordination committee. “I thought it was the craziest thing to do, but everybody loved it.”
Only a small number of the volunteers have a personal experience with the transplant journey – Joanie’s husband Marc, is a two-time liver recipient – but the mission resonates deeply with the Temple’s commitment to serving others in the community.
“One of the tenets of our faith is called ‘Tikkum Olam’ in Hebrew,” Joanie explains. “And it means repairing the world. So anytime we can reach out and help make somebody’s life better we try to do that. So, Transplant House fits right in with that. Not to mention that we all really love to cook!”
For Maureen, Joanie, and their fellow volunteers – numbering 20, with a “core group” of 8-10 who are regularly involved – the “repair” work that happens at Transplant House is all about providing a feeling of home, helping the guests who are far away from family, friends, and familiar surroundings feel settled and embraced while they are here. The work is generational, too, with volunteers bringing their children to help. And personal celebrations within the Temple Tifereth community provide cause to give back at Transplant House, too. For instance, some volunteers have chosen to provide a special meal to guests as an anniversary gift to their partner.
However, the Temple has done more than provide meals. As Transplant House grew (and the list of dinner volunteers expanded) The Temple looked for other ways to become involved in addition to meals. The Temple ran collection drives to help furnish and decorate the apartments in Building 2 and the common spaces in the duplex. Notably, the dining table on the programming side of the duplex, the center of many conversations between guests and staff, is one of many furnishings the Temple donated. They also provided funds for the chair lift in Building 2 and helped paint the community and programming spaces in the duplex in those warm colors that guests and visitors love. One member has donated several crocheted quilts. Those who couldn’t help in-person, but were moved by the mission, supplied funds to help other volunteers purchase needed items.
And while all of this is done in support of those who stay with us, the volunteers of Temple Tifereth say that they gain from these experiences, too.
“I don’t think any of our volunteers can come here and leave without being fulfilled,” Maureen says. “We’ve had people go into tears when they smell the home cooked meal and say, ‘this is just like home.’ That’s just so important. How can you not want to come back? Each experience motivates us for another experience.”
Joanie agrees: “What Transplant House does, it’s very magnetic. People are drawn to it.”
And the Temple hopes that their involvement can help others to learn about the affordable housing and atmosphere of welcome and care provided for transplant patients and their families at Transplant House. For Maureen, Joanie, and the other Temple volunteers, the effect of Transplant House on guests and their families is striking.
“The guests here receive a lot of support – not just food, but a whole sense of community,” Joanie says. “People come back year after year for testing and they want to stay here. They’ve enjoyed it. I heard a guest say he likes Cleveland and might buy some property here.”
Ultimately, the volunteers at Temple Tifereth see Transplant House as a significant part of their wider commitment to repair the world. And their efforts extend beyond Transplant House, locally and globally. Other examples of their commitment include their tutoring programs at Thomas Jefferson International Newcomers Academy to help K-12 learners adapt to life in a new country, food drives for the Cleveland Food Bank, the collection of gifts at holiday time, and their more recent silent auction in support of Ukrainian refugee relief.
“The Transplant House is about life,” Maureen says. “It fits with our commitment to give back to this life as well. No one can do it all, but we all have to do some.”