They rallied over lox and bagels and music, then Covid-19 hit. Now this 82-year-old widower and his millennial friend are overcoming loneliness through Zoom.


Although Goldstein, 30, and Brajer, 82, have a big age gap, they teamed up after meeting more than a year ago through the nonprofit DOROT, which pairs older New Yorkers with younger volunteers.

"I immediately got along really well with him and thought he sounded great, a really fun and funny guy," Goldstein told CNN, noting that he and Brajer made an effort to see each other every few weeks before the pandemic occurred.

However, due to Covid-19, his visits were put on hold: DOROT canceled all in-person visits. Instead, the organization asked its hundreds of volunteers and their partners, including Goldstein and Brajer, to switch to Zoom phone calls and video chats.

Brajer said he misses the visits. But, like many, they are making virtual hangouts work. The two began with phone calls every few weeks, complying with the order to stay home throughout the state. On June 4, they transitioned to a Zoom call.

Brajer and Goldstein meet at Zoom for the first time since the pandemic stopped their in-person visits.

"Good to see you," Goldstein said during the call. "I haven't seen you in a minute."

"I miss you," Brajer replied, his face beaming. "I'd like to hug you, and I'd like to give you some salad. It still seems like you haven't slept enough."

"Do you still have bags under my eyes?" replied his younger friend.

Uniting generations

DOROT is a Hebrew word that means generations, said Mark Meridy, the organization's executive director.

"Our mission is to unite generations and address the problem of social isolation," said Meridy.

The program began in 1976 when a group of graduate students from Columbia University saw the need to help older adults stay engaged and connected in the community. Since then, researchers have studied the health impacts of loneliness and have determined that loneliness is its own epidemic.

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"Loneliness is an important health priority," said Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, who was the US Surgeon General earlier. USA From 2014 to 2017. "There is increasing evidence that we have a strong association between loneliness and health outcomes."

Meridy agrees.

"Social isolation and loneliness can have devastating health care consequences for both older adults and individuals of all ages, but it especially affects older adults," he said.

"What research has shown is that when people are isolated or alone, there is an increase in depression levels, higher blood pressure levels of early onset dementia, and even premature death."

The nonprofit currently has more than 500 seniors paired with volunteers and advises other intergenerational programs across the country. Meridy said the relationship between older and younger volunteers is reciprocal.

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"Intergenerational programs have a significant impact on improving the quality of life for both individuals."

In addition to pairing volunteers with seniors for visits, DOROT offers fresh meals and offers concerts and talks.

When the coronavirus arrived, all of those programs went online and DOROT set up technical support to introduce older people to Zoom. Brajer was one of them, meeting on a screen in a small grid with more than a dozen older people.

The beginning of a new friendship.

Brajer is a survivor of the Holocaust. He and his family were detained and forced to live in the Budapest Jewish ghetto, where 70,000 Jews faced a massive famine. Most of his family did not survive.

He escaped from Communist Hungary when he was 18 years old and landed in New York City in 1956. Brajer lived with his partner for 55 years until his partner died of a stroke two and a half years ago.

"I am alone because he is not here, I mean that was my whole life," said Brajer. "Emotionally it was a disaster."

Holocaust survivor and widower Robert Brajer, 82, treasures his 1.5-year friendship with DOROT volunteer Ben Goldstein. Since the pandemic began, the two have spoken only on the phone or through Zoom.

Goldstein's visits helped fill a gap.

"Ben is a sweet boy," said Brajer. "It was very good emotionally not being alone and talking about life. It was very nice. We have to be friends."

"It's really great to be so welcome at someone like that. He's a very kind host," said Goldstein, "it's something I'm looking forward to."

It turned out that they have a lot in common.

Bonding over a shared love for music

When Goldstein first visited Brajer's apartment, he was amazed by the hundreds of records that his new friend left side by side.

It turned out that they both worked in the music industry. Brajer was a record seller in the 1960s and '70s at a department store on 5th Avenue. Goldstein owns a music management company that represents rock artists.

Before the pandemic, Brajer sometimes recorded and his young friend asked him about it.

"I think he likes to be able to tell him about the work I do in my music," Goldstein said. "I love that I tell him stories about the road."

They both enjoy the live performances, which are being missed right now.

Ben Goldstein, 30, started volunteering with the nonprofit DOROT a year and a half ago. its

"There is a generation gap. It really is not something that is felt while we are hanging out," Goldstein said.

Brajer said he is looking forward to the day when he can see his friend in person again.

"It is a good feeling," Brajer said of his friendship with Goldstein. "You don't feel alone."

Until then, their friendship continues to thrive, online.


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