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.
The club meets three times a week. One hundred and twenty members partake of a healthy breakfast, exercise and lectures on a variety of subjects including current events, seasonal topics, and health maintenance. Parties and field trips are frequent additions. At the club, Rivka enjoys a warm, supportive, stimulating environment in the company of women who went through similar traumatic experiences. For Rivka, the club is a place where she feels comfortable sharing her thoughts, and at times, her difficulties, alongside stories and jokes that bring a smile to her friends’ faces.
After Rivka broke her arm, Ezer Mizion arranged for home attendants to be sure she received the care she needed. The home attendants were chosen with forethought and were able to provide not only personal care and homemaking but also friendship and a listening ear. Rivka is comfortable speaking to them at length about her difficult past and the shocking ordeals she and her extended family underwent. A very significant relationship was woven between Rivka and her attendants, past and present. Now whenever Rivka arrives at the Club, the staff that handles the attendants also receive her heartfelt words of gratitude and blessings.
Like Rivka, Rochel is the sole survivor of her entire family. In 1946, she arrived in Israel on the “Biria” ship alone and bewildered in a world gone mad. Rochel is 94 and not only is she lucid but she has a sparkling, animated personality and a great sense of humor which is enjoyed by all he fellow club members.
Her experiences lay buried within her and her senior years found her with a burning desire to share them with others. The club members were her first audience. Once the dam broke, her thoughts come pouring out in a torrent and it was never enough. Ezer Mizion arranged for varied frameworks, enabling her tell her story again and again. She also hosted high school students in her home who were mesmerized by her experiences. A powerful speaker, she told her story at community centers and at high schools.
Ezer Mizion’s Eshnav program is a one-on-one program provided in the homes of homebound survivors. In the framework of the program, every Holocaust survivor receives a personal service package tailored to his/her needs. The service package includes: social support, physical exercise, cognitive enrichment, music, social and functional enrichment through game playing, and more.
Through the Eshnav project, Rachel was assigned a social work student, who came every week to her home, as part of her practicum. A marvelous, most significant bond was formed between the two. Even after her training was completed, the student chose to continue her connection with Rachel, serving as a pseudo-granddaughter. Together, they talk about current events, read newspapers, laugh together, and sometimes even bake or prepare special dishes. Rachel attests that her bond with the student literally gives her life.
One of the youngest holocaust survivors, Tzippy, was four years old when she was smuggled out with her mother and three siblings and hidden by Raoul Wallenberg in hide-out apartments.
During that time, they suffered severe hunger. The family lost her younger brother to starvation. Chananya, another survivor, was nine when he was deported with his family to Auschwitz. Both were fortunate to have survived the war together with family members. In 1958, they married and began to rebuild. Now in their golden years, they are anxious to give to those that were even less fortunate. Tzippy is a volunteer at the club, preparing breakfast, escorting the more frail members from gym to activity room and delivering interesting talks on a variety of subjects. Giving to those who shared similar experiences fills a deep need within her. Volunteering became more difficult when Chananya fell and fractured his leg. With no elevator, he was now homebound. But that didn’t stop him from creating. An Ezer Mizion staff member visited him and was stunned to find his home filled with breathtaking artistic creations, the fruit of years of labor. The painstakingly prepared creations, using original materials, depicted his life story from holocaust to rebirth. Newly registered in the Eshnav program, Chananya now receives weekly guided physical activity as well as stimulating conversation with a social worker student who has become fascinated by his artwork and the story behind it.
Unfortunately shortly afterwards, Tzippy also fell on her way home from her volunteer work at the club. Ezer Mizion immediately dispatched a caring home attendant to help her out but all of us at Ezer Mizion look forward to the time when she will once again be on the giving end.
These are our heroes, men and women who survived a horrific nightmare and went on to build, to create, to flourish and give to the world. Now it’s our turn to offer support to these courageous champions. May they enjoy their golden season for many years to come.