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Jewish Care’s Pen Pal project reunites Redbridge relatives

PUBLISHED: 15:00 11 September 2020

Doreen Wejchendler, 90, from Gants Hill, discovered that she and Chigwell resident Aaron Gelkoff were related after she became penpals with the 14-year-old actor. Picture: Jewish Care

Doreen Wejchendler, 90, from Gants Hill, discovered that she and Chigwell resident Aaron Gelkoff were related after she became penpals with the 14-year-old actor. Picture: Jewish Care

Archant

A pen pal project set up during lockdown to connect members of the Jewish community has uncovered a pair of Redbridge relatives.

Claire Hartley, pictured with her children Alex and Talia, has been writing to 88-year-old Joyce Rogers, who has enjoyed bonding with the trio over the last few months. Picture: Jewish CareClaire Hartley, pictured with her children Alex and Talia, has been writing to 88-year-old Joyce Rogers, who has enjoyed bonding with the trio over the last few months. Picture: Jewish Care

Gants Hill resident Doreen Wejchendler and Aaron Gelkoff from Chigwell realised their family link after the Jewish Care project put them in touch.

Doreen, 90, explains how Aaron’s West End acting career was key to making the discovery: “When Aaron told us he was in the shows my daughter realised the connection between our families and that we are distantly related. I phoned up his grandfather, Barry, and know his great-aunt.”

Aaron, 14 – a West Hatch High School student — has already performed in a number of West End productions, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Les Misérables. He says he has found a true ally in Doreen: “We talk about our shared interests. For example, we both spent our birthday in lockdown and we both have pets, so I asked Doreen for a photo of her cat Charlie and sent her a photo of my cat, Roxy.”

The project began during a period when interaction was more crucial than ever, something which motivated Aaron after he saw the initiative advertised at Redbridge Jewish Community Centre.

Wanstead's Joyce Rogers has enjoyed bonding with Claire Hartley and her two children as part of the Jewish Care Pen Pal project. Volunteer Joanne helps Claire to write the emails, ensuring she can easily stay in touch. Picture: Jewish CareWanstead's Joyce Rogers has enjoyed bonding with Claire Hartley and her two children as part of the Jewish Care Pen Pal project. Volunteer Joanne helps Claire to write the emails, ensuring she can easily stay in touch. Picture: Jewish Care

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“I wanted to get involved. I know that going into lockdown must have been a real shock for people living on their own and they might have been finding it really difficult. I thought this was a nice way to make new friends.”

He and Doreen are not the only pair to find friendship.

Shirley Greenbaum and Talia Jacobs, from Clayhall and Chigwell respectively, have also developed a strong rapport.

Chigwell resident Aaron Gelkoff, pictured with his dog Roxy, has been writing to Doreen since lockdown. Picture: Jewish CareChigwell resident Aaron Gelkoff, pictured with his dog Roxy, has been writing to Doreen since lockdown. Picture: Jewish Care

Pleased to discover their “local connection”, 87-year-old Shirley says it’s nice that Talia “has some idea” of who her family are.

Talia — a volunteer with Jewish Care’s Six Sundays programme for some years — describes the project as “a good alternative way” to keep giving back.

Claire Hartley, from Chingford, has also been writing to 88-year-old Joyce Rogers, of Wanstead, who has especially enjoyed bonding with Claire’s two children. Joyce even sent Claire’s son Alex a card for his fifth birthday.

To become a Pen Pal or a letter writing assistant by email, contact Dana at DKurlansky-Thom@jcare.org.


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