‘Shabboxes’ at Torah Outreach Program of South Florida

A Shabbox and its beautiful contents.

Torah Outreach Program (TOP) of South Florida, under the direction of Rabbi Yisroel Bodkins, is a program that is designed to teach faith, hope, joy and meaning to Florida’s senior citizens. Through various classes and learning sessions given in 10 different facilities, private homes and in Kollel Zichron Michel of North Miami Beach, senior citizens are feeling more inspired and have gained a more positive outlook on life.

It has been much more difficult lately for TOP to conduct its programming, as facilities are closed to outside visitors and volunteers, and even those seniors who live at home do not want to go out and mingle with others. Rabbi Bodkins continues to give some classes via Zoom, but this is not nearly as far-reaching as his previous programs.

However, in the past few weeks, TOP has embarked on a brand-new project. The idea is the brainchild of a caring young man who pointed out that there are many elderly people right now who are quarantined by themselves with nothing to inspire them or even to give them a smile. To reach out to these seniors, and give them a taste of Shabbos, TOP began sending them Shabbos care packages.

The boxes, known as Shabboxes, include electric candles, grape juice, a Kiddush cup, home-baked challah and, sometimes, gefilte fish. They also include a printed copy of transliterated Shalom Aleichem, Kiddush and Hamotzi, and of course, a copy of TOP’s weekly newsletter. For Rosh Hashanah, the boxes included apples, honey sticks and a small honey cake. They are delivered by volunteers to senior facilities and private apartments throughout South Florida.

Rabbi Bodkins has seen a lot of siyatta diShmaya. For instance, he was in contact with the family of Mrs. Fanny Cohen, a”h, a lady who was recently niftar, who had started a similar program distributing Shabbos boxes to patients in hospitals. After her petirah, her family took over the project, and named it “Fanny’s Shabboxes.” After the corona outbreak, they were no longer able to deliver the Shabboxes to the hospitals, so they gave them to Rabbi Bodkins for distribution.

Rabbi Bodkins says that as many of the boxes are delivered by others, he was not sure how much they were being appreciated. Then, a few weeks ago, he went on vacation and did not deliver them. When he came home, he answered the phone and the caller said, “Rabbi, you don’t know me, but I was getting your boxes and now I don’t. You don’t know what you have until you miss it!” Rabbi Bodkins told the caller, “Don’t worry, I am coming back!’”

On another occasion, he delivered a Shabbox to a private apartment. When the man answered the door, still several hours before Shabbos, Rabbi Bodkins noticed that the table was set with the items from the previous week’s box. “He gave me a huge smile and said, ‘Thank you,’ recalls Rabbi Bodkins. “Now I realize how much of a difference these boxes are making in the lives of our isolated senior citizens.”

For more information on TOP, or to sponsor a Shabbox or other TOP programming, please contact Rabbi Bodkins at RabbiB@torahoutreachprogram.com or call 305-773-0943.