Our Holocaust Heroes

kosel
90 Holocaust Heroes come ‘home’.

In a powerful Ezer Mizion event, in collaboration with the Kotel Heritage Foundation, ninety holocaust survivors, together with their families, were brought to the kosel, some for the very first time.   They were welcomed by the ceremonial salute by a platoon of soldiers followed by an inspiring musical performance. The event included a visit to the “Chain of Generations” display after which each survivor approached the wall in heartfelt gratitude and prayer. Each participant deeply felt his connection as part of the ‘chain of generations’ so grateful to have been given the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

 

holocaust - yellow star
A void never filled in the soul of a holocaust survivor

The group then parted with the kosel and made its way to Aish Hatorah Yeshiva where a festive celebration for the ‘Bas Mitzvah girls’ took place. One may rightly question the existence of a group of Bas Mitzvah girls within an assemblage of .  The answer is both sad yet uplifting. You see, for so many of these survivors, there had been no childhood. They missed out on all the milestones that our generation takes for granted. Many holocaust survivors have built anew and are now successful heads of multi-generational families. But there in the recesses of their being lies the childhood that never was. They don’t speak about it. An adult would feel foolish expressing her regret over never having had the opportunity to play with dolls. But it’s there. Or rather, it is not there. A void that cannot be filled. Among themselves, the sorrow may come up in conversation. And at one other place: an Ezer Mizion Social Club for Holocaust Survivors. It was there that an idea was born.

As these heroes attend their grandchildren’s Bas and Bar Mitzvahs, their hearts are filled with pride. Yet there lurks that germ of regret. “I missed mine.”

A formal celebration during the Golden Years has been found to serve as closure for the childhood celebrations lost in the wisps of crematoria smoke. Call it a Bas Mitzvah. Call it a closure of sorts. It helps to put to rest, once and for all, a few of the demons that still invade in their souls.

And so the long awaited day came to an end.  It was a stirring and powerful event for the hundreds gathered there, an event greatly enhanced by the moving words of Ezer Mizion’s Founder and International Chairman, Rav Chananya Chollak. It was a day made possible by the cooperation of so many Ezer Mizion Transportation Division and Geriatric Division staff members whose dedication ensured that every detail be perfect. It was a day in which we, the younger generation, were given the opportunity to show honor and respect to our holocaust heroes.

 

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Why Home?

 

pr golden - 1 wish - Dora and daughter -beach trip-4
A day of memories for 2 holocaust survivors

They’re locked in their own world, unable to express themselves. Unable to benefit from daily communication with those around them, their ability to look upon themselves as individuals begins to fade and slowly dissipates. Their unique personalities become only a memory in the minds of those who knew them well.  Continue reading Why Home?

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A Little Sliver of Gold

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A holocaust survivor is given a ‘day at the spa’

She led a full life. Her days were filled with giving to others. Her children, neighbors, friends.  Satisfying days. Neither did she neglect herself. Every so often she would recharge with a trip to the spa. A manicure. A facial. A great way to provide energy for herself as a giver. So relaxing. And it felt so good to be looking her best.

It’s all over now. No more giving. No more nurturing.  And no more pampering beauty treatments. No more anything. Just tasteless days at the nursing home. One day following the next. Each exactly the same. Continue reading A Little Sliver of Gold

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The Magic of Fulfilling a Dream

pr golden - 1 wish - Leah at husband's kever-facing grave-
A holocaust survivor reconnects with her past

Leah lived in a senior citizens’ home. Morning, noon and night.  She knew there was a world ‘out there’ but it had been so long. So long since she had gone anywhere but from her room to the dining room and back again. Her husband lay peacefully in his final resting place and she remained alive, just barely so, disconnected from the one with whom she had shared her whole life and disconnected from the world they had traveled together. How she longed to sense his presence once again. Perhaps with their two children. A ‘family trip’ like the many they shared so long ago. But a trip to the cemetery was as likely as a trip to the moon. Leah resigned herself to living out her remaining years in room #306, the ‘cage’ that was her home now. Continue reading The Magic of Fulfilling a Dream

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My Opinion Matters

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Reaching out to the elderly holocaust survivor currently living in a nursing home

As people age they face loss. Loss of their independence, of their faculties, of their standing in the community. The holocaust survivor is particularly fragile due to his nightmarish youth which often resurfaces in old age when mundane life no longer makes its demands on him. No longer a decision maker, he feels unnoticed, worthless and lacks any purpose in life. The simplest choices such as what to have for breakfast are no longer his to make. If he expresses an opinion, there is no one to listen.    Slowly the aged nursing home resident shrivels, even losing his sense of self.

Ezer Mizion’s One Wish Program has undertaken to fulfill the personal request of 570 holocaust survivors living in residences throughout the country.

pr golden 1 wish Moroccan concert
Moroccan concert: a taste of home

 

 

 

S is a case in point. She resides in a nursing home with residents of mixed backgrounds. She herself is Moroccan as are some others but the home caters to the more prevalent Ashkenazi groups. She understands but still longs for an occasional taste of ‘home’. It was not until she met up with the Ezer Mizion staff did she feel that her needs, her opinions would have any value. Her thoughts about an occasional connection to the childhood memories of the minority groups and introducing the others to how specific ethnic groups live. Certainly a valid proposal for the nursing home staff but, just as certainly, not one that S. would ever make on her own. Her self-respect, her dignity soared on night of Welcome to Morocco, featuring a professional vibrant, ethnic band playing Moroccan music followed by delicious Moroccan cuisine. She basked in delight as announcements were made to her fellow residents that it was she who had suggested the evening’s entertainment.

pr golden 1 wish Russian show
An elderly holocaust survivor regains sense of self

R was a Russian living in a nursing home with a significant Russian population. Significant but not enough for the staff to take notice. All entertainment was in Hebrew. R. understood Hebrew well but it was not her prime language. As the Ezer Mizion One Wish staff developed a relationship with her, encouraging her to express her opinions, she shyly made mention of her personal feelings. Like a fragile newly-hatched baby bird, her thoughts on Russian entertainment hesitantly emerged. It was in her honor that the nursing home presented its first Russian show – a spectacular performance – which all the Russian speaking residents of her facility enjoyed together with her, enhancing her happiness and sense of purpose.

In the first few months of the program’s existence, One Wish has proven itself to have more than met the goals of the initiative. The seniors feel noticed. Their opinions matter. Their existence is validated. They continue to discuss their Special Day long after it occurred and this day becomes the catalyst to a new awakening of that sense of self.

 

Ezer Mizion provides services to over 660,000 of Israel’s population annually in addition to its Bone Marrow Registry which saves the lives of Jewish cancer patients the world over.

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Once Again I’m Me

pr golden 1 wish P. boat trip
A holocaust survivor recalls the joys of her youth

Today’s Holocaust survivors suffered indescribable trauma in their early childhood and youth. With this knowledge, we aim to sweeten their golden years and enable these lonely, isolated heroes to fulfill a wish. Each is an individual. Each led a life based on his individual likes and dislikes. But now they find themselves lumped together in the same facility with no choice as to room décor, type of food, or activities. With no opportunity to express personal desires, bit by bit, he becomes less of a person. It is for this reason that Ezer Mizion’s Project1 Wish was born.   Continue reading Once Again I’m Me

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Marriage is Forever, Isn’t It?

pr golden - date on beach
Yes, marriage is forever!

Marriage is forever, isn’t it? But what happens when he is living in a nursing home, incapacitated and she is wheelchair bound at home? After 63 years of marriage are they never to see each other again?

“After fourteen concentration camps, my wife is my whole world,” he says. “I long to spend time together but I am imprisoned in an aged body.”

Eons ago, they used to be young. They both loved the beach. He used to surf and was quite good at it. And so they dreamed.  Separately. Alone. Until Ezer Mizion came into the picture.

It would be like years ago. A date. On the beach. Like when they were young, Like their courtship days.

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Transporting the elderly disabled

Logistics are never easy. It required two Ezer Mizion ambulances, each fitted to accommodate a wheelchair. It required trained drivers who are able to handle the disabled safely and with care and respect. It required finding a suitable beach.  It required an empty slot in Ezer Mizion’s tightly scheduled Make-A-Wish program. So many requirements but Ezer Mizion staff was determined and the holocaust survivors’ ‘date’ became a reality.

And so there they were, “strolling” along the boardwalk, watching the surfers, reliving their younger days together.  They talked and talked, sharing memories, catching up on each other’s lives. They laughed at the antics of the surfers, recalling the days when he rode the surf. Once again they felt the sun’s rays, listened to the pounding of the waves, smelled the ocean spray…together.

An Ezer Mizion outing would not be complete without a delectable meal to go with it. Lunch at the Shaltele Restaurant overlooking the sea topped off their date. They chose all their favorites ending off with an ice cream sundae with all the trimmings. It was a beautiful day. Neither one wanted it to end. But the memories will chase away the loneliness for months to come.

Ezer Mizion’s One Wish Program offers the elderly holocaust survivor the opportunity to choose an event they wish to experience, something they can look forward to. The requests are as varied as the people who make them. It may be a visit to the Kosel, a tour of the old neighborhood, a trip to Tzfas. It may be an opinion regarding entertainment at the facility in which they reside. Ezer Mizion receives requests from social workers or family members of lonely, disabled, holocaust survivors throughout Israel. After reviewing the requests, Ezer Mizion coordinates the logistics of making these dreams come true.

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The lonely holocaust survivor in his senior years

Many of today’s Holocaust survivors are confined to facilities, lonely and isolated. They suffered indescribable trauma in their early childhood and youth. As people age they face loss. Loss of their independence, of their faculties, of their standing in the community. Slowly they shrivel, even losing their sense of self. Our goal is to revive their spirit, ignite their feeling of self-worth, and encourage them to delve below the dust that has gathered and realize that their wants, their opinions matter. This, we hope, will renew their vitality and empower them by enhancing their sense of self-worth.

Approximately 570 wishes will be fulfilled this year. The senior is heavily involved in the planning and receives a lovely album of pictures after the Big Day. The anticipation beforehand coupled with the memories following will infuse our precious survivors with emotional energy, healing, hope and happiness.

Ezer Mizion provides services to over 660,000 of Israel’s population annually in addition to its Bone Marrow Registry which saves the lives of Jewish cancer patients the world over.

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No List At All?

pr golden 1 wish - list
Golden age is not as golden as we believe

Our list is long. The day is short. So many items get transferred to the next day’s list. Constant pressure. Never finishing. Can we even begin to imagine what it be like to have no list? No list at all? No goals? Nothing to work toward? Nothing to look forward to?

For a short moment you picture yourself breathing a sigh of relief. I’m done! But then you begin to think. And you realize how unappetizing a day is with nothing to get ready for, nothing to plan. Just nothing. Continue reading No List At All?

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On the Way to Work

pr golden helping hand
The loneliness of the golden age

She looked lonely. Just sitting there on a park bench with her attendant day after day. I stopped for a moment on my way to work. We spoke. A brief chat each day that we both looked forward to. A warm spirit…an intelligent mind imprisoned in an eighty-two year old body. Erica needed more stimulation. Perhaps some board games to keep her mind active. A game partner who would love her and whom she could love.

I reached my office at Ezer Mizion Ashdod Branch. A message from a parent. The volunteer we had paired up for game therapy with her special needs child was not working out. I had had my doubts. Chagit was eager to volunteer and help others but I had not been sure as to how well she could relate to children. Her own childhood had been less than perfect and she was now living with a foster family.  Hmmm. Perhaps…?

It was a perfect match. Chagit visits twice a week armed with games and professional advice from the Game Lending Library Division. a project of Ezer Mizion’s Geriatric Services Dept. Malka Hager Fitness Center. The foster family reports that Chagit is so much more fulfilled. The volunteering with Erica has worked wonders for her, boosting her confidence and self-image. 

As for Erica — she still waits for me on the bench near my workplace and confides in me how she is teaching Chagit how to play… Continue reading On the Way to Work

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