The war is long over. The crematoria have become a place to visit. Horrifying, yes, but safe from the sadism that was mankind. The Germans have even expressed their regrets in contrite tones of remorse. But for the victims… it can never be over. The horrific experiences permeated their very being. In their younger years, they may have managed to function what with job and home responsibilities covering over the nightmare that corroded their soul. But now- 70 years later – old, feeble, many of them alone, without family—they try to function. They try. But even though the body may still be healthy, the spirit has withered. And so they cower in a corner…sometimes figuratively…sometimes literally.
Leah* was one of those people. She lived at home, eating when hungry, sleeping when tired and spending the rest of her time just sitting. Do we dare to even think what memories may have flooded her sorely troubled mind as she sat, day after day, week after week. Alone. Her caregiver urged her to join Ezer Mizion’s Activity Club for Holocaust Survivors. The only response was disinterest and apathy. More urging from the caretaker. And more. And more. Finally, she was told to go and she went. But that was all. She sat in the crowded room… so alone. The group engaged in varied activities including crafts and exercise. They heard stimulating lectures from well-known people like Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Lau, the son of the well know holocaust survivor, Former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who inspired them with his warm words. Leah joined in none of these. She was hardly aware of the goings-on and never interacted with the others. Even a slight smile seemed to be a stranger to this face that had seen what no human being should have seen. She sat quietly in her corner, always dressed in the same clothing. It seemed as if the last spark had gone out and only a shell remained.
But Ruth Carmel, Ezer Mizion’s indomitable coordinator, was not about to admit defeat. With the sensitivity that comes from truly caring about each member, she saw beyond the dying ember that sat before her. She inquired, investigated, researched and slowly she began to uncover a productive past. In her younger days, Leah had been a dynamic, highly popular teacher and lecturer. Now Ruth knew which direction to take. Bit by bit, Leah began to tune into Ruth’s suggestions that she speak for the group on the Parshas HaShvuah (Torah portion of the week). A flicker of light would appear in her eyes but it would soon die down. Then one day… it didn’t die down.
The preparation wasn’t easy but it took her out of her self-imposed prison of indifference. Her talent, dormant for so long, came to life and the people enjoyed her speech. They complimented her afterwards and she responded. They asked questions and she answered. The conversation flowed to other topics and she was part of it. Her weekly speeches continued. It didn’t happen overnight but now, three years later, she is an animated, well-liked member of the group, socially involved, attentive to her clothing and grooming…and really happy!