JFS partners with Tikvah House to provide Jewish life programming

A few decades ago, Tikvah House was formed by three Jewish families in the Lehigh Valley to create a home for their adult children with intellectual disabilities. Now, Tikvah House has formed a partnership with Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley to carry out Jewish life programming on behalf of those families to keep the residents involved with the community.

Sarah Morse is the JFS staff person in charge of this program. Morse has seen great success so far with the new initiative.

“Pre-COVID, the idea was to make sure the residents are more integrated in the community through attendance at events at synagogue or having Shabbat dinner at a community member’s home. We want them to be able to form relationships with as many community members as possible,” said Morse.

Obviously, while the COVID-19 pandemic continues, in-person visits aren’t possible, but JFS has found innovative ways to keep the residents connected.

Back when the weather was warmer and COVID cases were on the decline, JFS volunteer Eva Derby gave a Sukkot presentation in Tikvah House’s backyard. Now, they are sticking to virtual events, the first being a Zoom visit with the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley’s new community shaliach, Gavriel Siman-Tov. 

Despite the limitations, JFS staff are working to keep a consistent routine going. The first Friday of every month, Tikvah House residents participate in a virtual candle lighting. On the second Fridays, they tune into Congregation Keneseth Israel’s virtual Shabbat service. Morse has also been able to coordinate drop-offs to tie into events, such as giving residents Israeli flags for Siman-Tov’s talk or delivering latkes for Chanukah. 

“It’s harder to find ways to meet the goals right now due to COVID, but I think it’s meaningful and this is a way to increase their involvement with the community and keep them connected, especially now. It lets these residents know they are an important part of this community, and we all need connections right now,” said Morse.

Audrey Nolte is a member of the boards for both JFS and Tikvah House and has been intimately involved in developing this partnership between the two. In 2019, she visited another similar residence in Harrisburg with two of the Tikvah House parents to gather ideas on how best to implement this new endeavor. 

LifePath is an organization which provides programs and services to individuals of all ages with developmental disabilities throughout the Lehigh Valley and southeastern Pennsylvania. Their staff is at Tikvah House 24/7 to help the residents there, and they work in partnership with JFS to make this extra special connection to the Jewish community possible.

Nolte credits Morse as well as JFS Volunteer Coordinator Chelsea Karp and the parent liaisons for putting all the puzzle pieces together to make the vision of Jewish life programming through JFS happen for Tikvah House. 

“I’m just really delighted,” said Nolte, who used to volunteer to take the residents to the library each month before COVID. “I love all of the residents. They are so kind and appreciative if you go somewhere or do something with them. The excitement they have, when you see that, it’s really a beautiful thing. I’m glad that both my board positions could meld into something like this.”

Any member of the Lehigh Valley Jewish community who would like to share a special interest with the residents of Tikvah House is encouraged to contact Sarah Morse at smorse@jfslv.org.