A recent ABC-7 News segment proved that age is no deterrent for one Forest Parker who remains determined to have an impact on the community.
Last week, 88-year-old Madeline Kochman was featured on ABC’s “Caring for the Community” series, which highlights selfless acts performed by Chicago-area residents. For decades, Kochman has devoted her life to volunteerism.
That dedication dates back 40 years, when she began volunteering for Meals on Wheels. In that time, she also began donating her time to West Suburban PADS – a Maywood-based nonprofit that offers a variety of services to the area’s homeless population. Her work there started in the form of a Bat Mitzvah gift to her rabbi’s daughter.
“The rabbi said, ‘No gifts, please, make a donation to PADS,'” she recalled. “I promised myself I would devote myself to volunteer work.”
A few years ago, she began volunteering at Vital Bridges in Oak Park. The agency has several locations in the metro area that strive to help persons with HIV and AIDS by providing health care, food, and nutrition services, among other things.
On Thursdays, Kochman spends her day at the Vital Bridges food pantry in Oak Park, 225 Harrison St., where she organizes the inventory and distribution of food and does clerical work, among many other tasks. She has been there for about five years.
“One day a week, we take care of people who are HIV positive or have AIDS,” Kochman said. “We have case managers there, and we have a large food panty.”
“She’s caring, she’s considerate, she loves what she’s doing … she gives it her all, and she gives it without expecting anything in return,” Bertha Gonzalez, food program coordinator, told ABC’s Roz Varon.
Varon, an ABC anchor, and Kochman both attend Oak Park Temple, 1235 Harlem Ave. Kochman said Varon was looking to put some “Jewish flavor” in the “Caring for the Community” feature in which she appeared.
“Madeline was brought to my attention through Cantor [Julie Yugend] Green,” Varon said. (A cantor leads the worshippers in prayer with the rabbi. He or she is also considered a teacher, and often an authority on Jewish music).
Varon was impressed by Kochman. The Forest Parker learned to chant Hebrew and Aramaic from the Torah in a year’s time, and had her Bat Mitzvah ceremony at 85. She also hiked the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and trekked through the Negev Desert in Israel not long ago, and she continues to take classes at Triton College.
When Varon pitched the story to her producers, they ate it up.
Varon recalled that with her own recent Bat Mitzvah, “It took me two years to learn all that Hebrew, to learn all that chanting. For her to do what she did in a year’s time is so inspirational. I was just blown away.”
Yugend-Green, who tutored Kochman and presided over her Bat Mitzvah, is also enamored.
“She’s remarkable; she just doesn’t stop moving,” Yugend-Green said.
Last week Kochman cut our interview short because she had to get ready to go to the Temple. She and several other women in the congregation were demonstrating how to prepare various ethnic Jewish dishes.
Kochman served up chopped liver.