A web of relationships, tightly woven over decades. Strengthened with love and caring. Expanding in every direction. Ever increasing… more and more. Until one day when the center threads begin to fray. Eroded by dementia. Continue reading Holding Tight
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
We all have met up, at some time or other, with people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Seeing their inability to function independently is frightening. We look at them and their family members with compassion. But that’s them. We are we. We are not members of that club. The Dementia Club. We chuckle a bit the next time we forget our keys but we know it’s normal. Certainly not a sign of the D-word.
And then one day, Chaya, a perfectly normal woman, your neighbor, the one you went shopping with a couple of weeks ago. The one who helped you out your washing machine broke. That neighbor whom you’ve shared your woes in raising your kids as you both waited for their school bus each morning – she said something strange. It wasn’t the first time. You glanced up at her and were shocked to see that her face looked different – confused, helpless. Continue reading Dementia: Us and Them
Malka* was enjoying a peaceful cup of coffee. Lunches were made for tomorrow. The laundry was in the drier and Malka’s father had gone to bed early. She was about to reach for something to read, a rare luxury, when the bell rang. It was after eleven. Who could that be? Coffee forgotten, Malka’s heart began to flutter. She pressed the intercom button and, her voice trembling, asked who it was. The voice was hesitant, a bit embarrassed. A neighbor was just coming home from evening prayers and…She ran to open the door and there stood the neighbor with her father, dressed in pajamas, barefoot and looking very confused. Continue reading Alzheimer’s: Color Me Black.
Chavi* was a young teen. Two of her older brothers were away in Yeshiva and the rest of her siblings were married. Chavi enjoyed the best of both worlds – a large supportive family and having Mommy almost all to herself. They shopped together, cooked together and shared meaningful conversations about Chavi’s social life and plans for the future. Until one day when Mommy wasn’t there. Oh, she was there physically but something wasn’t right. They had been shopping for summer clothes when Mommy insisted on buying a rattle for Mindy, one of her nieces. Mommy just wasn’t hearing her when she reminded her that Mindy was now four years old. Then there was the time Mommy, who hardly ever raised her voice, called Rochel, Chavi’s older sister, screaming at her for forgetting to pick her up to go to the shiur (lecture) last night. Except there had not been a shiur last night. Continue reading Is That Mommy?!
When a person wakes up each day with the thought of how can I make things better for someone else, then answers seem to abound. Rabbi Chananya Chollak, founder of Ezer Mizion, is such a person. The most recent idea has been collaboration with Chasdei Naomi to brighten the lives of hundreds of holocaust survivors on the Yom Tov of Shavuot. These very special heroes often live on a fixed income. Their food expenditures are perforce minimal and only the lower cost items enter their kitchens. Continue reading Giving Again and Again and Again
It’s frightening. You feel helpless. Your mother who took care of you as a child has become a child herself. And it is you who must care for her now. Not just physical care. That would be difficult but still easier to handle. Now she needs you to guide her, to explain things like she did for you when you were small. To tell her again and again and again what she seemed to know yesterday. To guard her from danger – from a hot stove, from busy streets. And like a small child, she doesn’t want to be guided. She may lash out in fury. Not unlike you did at age four. But unlike a small child, she is not gradually maturing. It gets worse each day. Continue reading When Mommy Becomes a Child
As one who went through the nightmare, Tziporah Abramowitz (77) is more capable than anyone else to connect to the depths of the souls of the holocaust survivors in order to help them with the emotional challenge of coping daily with the horrible memories, which do not leave them alone for a moment. She has become a beloved volunteer at Ezer Mizion’s social club for holocaust survivors. Her encouragement, her compliments, her ability to engage the members and her weekly presentation on the Parsha (Torah portion of the week) all serve to bring that elusive smile to the faces of these elderly victims of a horror that defies description.
Tziporah was one of those saved by Raoel Wallenburg. She was hidden, together with hundreds of children, in the cellar of one of the many buildings rented by Mr. Wallenburg. In the 17th century there had been a terrible fire in London that killed many. When the “Pest’ section of Budapest was built, it was required that from every building, there would be a way to escape to another building. Continue reading A Holocaust Survivor Reaches Out to Others
A man grows older. Sometimes parts of his body do not work as well as when he was young. Does that mean his inner feelings lessen? His wishes? His longings?
Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Gibraltar, a native of Kovno was just 12 years old when World War II broke out. He endured all the horrors of the Holocaust, suffering illness and hunger and doing forced labor under severe conditions. Together with his brother, he carried their father until the end of the horrible marches. After the war, he moved to Israel where he established his home and raised his children. Here in Israel, he wrote and published three books about the Jews of Kovno, from its golden era until its destruction in the Holocaust.
In his weekly meetings with an Ezer Mizion volunteer, Rabbi Gibraltar mentioned that in his childhood, he had been an expert swimmer. After the war’s end, too, he did a lot of swimming, in preparation for his planned Aliyah, since he had heard that the British do not allow the immigrants’ ships lay anchor close to shore. Those days, with his swimming skills, he saved many people from drowning.
Today, due to a substantial decline in his physical functioning, he is at home most hours of the day. When he was young, he hopped in and out of a car many times a day. Now his body fails him and getting into a car is as difficult as flying to the moon. When he was young, he had spent his vacations at scenic places, taking in the glorious beauty of Hashem’s world. He traveled where he wished. There was nothing holding him back. Now traveling from one room to another is a battle. In his mind’s eye, he can see the awesome beauty of the ocean. He yearns to be there once more…to make the brocha Oseh Maaseh Breishis (blessing) as his whole being becomes one with the roar of the waves.
He is a 90 year old Talmid Chochom (man learned in the Torah), a holocaust survivor. He is so grateful for the life he was given. He has no complaints. But oh, to see the ocean once more… to feel the power of the waves as they come crashing down… to gaze at the horizon as sea meets sky far, far into the distance. And then to make the brocha (blessing) in full awe and what HaKodosh Boruch Hu (G-d) had wrought.
He yearned but he understood that it cannot be. Until the Ezer Mizion volunteer heard his whispered dreams. Then things began moving fast. Contacts were made. Logistical hurdles were surmounted. More problems. These also were vanquished. Then a date was set. A slot was cleared with an Ezer Mizion ambulance for his trip. An experienced, Ezer Mizion trained volunteer was thrilled to facilitate the outing. And a dream became reality.
Another holocaust survivor. Another dream. This one is 99 years old. His neshoma aches to, once again, experience a davening at Meron. Impossible, say the naysayers. Lets try, says Ezer Mizion. It’s not easy. For each impediment conquered, two more crop up. It would be easy to simply say, it’s too hard. But Ezer Mizion is not about to take the easy way out when there exists even a remote possibility of bringing such spiritual joy to this centenarian. Phones buzzed and emails flew across cyberspace. It was not long before this dream, too, became reality.
Ezer Mizion’s Ambulance Division with its fleet of vehicles outfitted to handle the mobility impaired, the respiratory patient and so many more challenges, handles hundreds of calls for patients to be transported to and from clinics for chemo, dialysis and other treatments and emergency calls. A small number of slots are reserved for its “Fulfilling A Dream” program which has brought happiness to so many homebound. It enables elderly people to choose an event they wish to experience, something they can look forward to. Ezer Mizion receives requests from social workers or family members of lonely, disabled, elderly people throughout Israel. After reviewing the requests, Ezer Mizion coordinates the logistics of making these dreams come true.
Typical requests include trips to the Kotel and other special places, visits to relatives and friends and participation in family celebrations. Ezer Mizion’s Ambulance and Transport Department plays an integral role in fulfilling dreams, providing the necessary vehicles and personnel
Companionship. A vital need at every stage of life. And especially essential for the holocaust survivor. Rivka is a typical survivor. She was born in 1930, in Lodz and grew up with her parents and three siblings in a warm, supportive family. But the war came crashing down on this idyllic family life and young Rivka was left all alone. Illness took the lives of her parents and her siblings perished in Auschwitz and Treblinka. Life as she had known it was no more and the future looked bleak indeed. But brick by brick, she rebuilt her life, marrying and raising a family. And now at 87 years old, she sits, absorbed in her memories, in need of the companionship of those who understand. Spending her days in a rocking chair by the window would be perfectly acceptable but she doesn’t want that. She wants to laugh. She wants to share. She wants to connect with others. And so Rivka became a member of Ezer Mizion’s ‘British Café Club’ and, for the past four years, has not missed an activity. Whatever the weather – cold, rainy, scorching hot – Rivka is there. Bright and bubbly and ever so grateful to the staff. Recently she fell and fractured her arm. But that didn’t stop her. Her arm ensconced in a cast, she surprised everyone at the next event, showering blessings upon each individual staff member. “I’m a holocaust survivor and my blessings have substantial weight in heaven,” she says as she moves on to the next person with her warm words of praise. Continue reading Holocaust Survivors in their Golden Years