Posts Tagged ‘survivor’

Holocaust Survivors: What are they doing now?

May 17, 2017

pr golden -f-IMG_4766-maleCompanionship. 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 us all 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.

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I Missed Mine!

July 6, 2016

pr golden holocaust surv bas mitzvah 2016Many 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 his 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.”

Would a formal celebration during the Golden Years 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. Would it serve to put to rest, once and for all, a few of the demons that still invade in their souls?

The caring professionals at Ezer Mizion thought it may. Were they correct? A survivor spoke at the event, representing all of the attendees. These are her thoughts.

 I was a little girl, just nine years old. Alone, devoid of her past, and apparently, of a future as well.

I never celebrated a Bat Mitzvah, not at age 12, and not after that, either. My childhood was stolen from me. They robbed me of the kiss and embrace of a father and mother, of games and life with my brothers and sisters, of a family’s caring, of a Shabbat and Yom Tov table, of learning at school and frolicking about in my free time. They robbed me of a sheltered life at home, sleeping cozily in my warm bed, of food that you don’t have to worry about every minute, of a normal life, where all the world’s evil remains far outside your walls.

We will never be able to retrieve all that they stole from us. We built beautiful homes. We tried hard so that our children would not feel what we went through. And we did a good job. That’s a fact, and our children are the proof.

And now, you have created this day to celebrate our Bat Mitzvah. How symbolic and how moving it is. We thank you wholeheartedly for this beautiful idea, which fills us with gratitude.

About a hundred Holocaust survivors, ages 75-95, dressed in festive clothing were brought to the Kosel. The event began with a visit to the “Chain of Generations” display and the “Behind Our Wall” in the Kotel Tunnels. An elegant meal was served, enhanced by musicians and by chazzan Dovele Heller, who sang chassidic compositions and nostalgic Yiddish tunes. Rabbi Chananya Chollak spoke, showering the survivors with blessings and each survivor was given a siddur with her name engraved on the cover.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the women were brought back to the Kosel for their first prayer using the new siddur.

The women returned home excited and brimming with the experience. They felt that this was a meaningful landmark occasion for them. It strengthened their feeling that people have not forgotten them, and even in their waning years, took the trouble to arrange this important event.

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The Holocaust Survivor

June 3, 2015

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!
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They Told Me: You’ll Never Have Any More Children

April 10, 2013

They Told Me: You'll Never Have Any More Children

They Told Me: ‘You’ll Never Have More Children’
When Efrat was diagnosed with cancer, the doctors told her she would never have more children * Soon, she will be celebrating her son’s first birthday

One doctor told her she’d never have a baby. Another offered guidance in adoption. They all agreed that Efrat Keren’s chances of bearing more children of her own were next to nil.
Five years ago, Efrat (39), mother of two, was in the midst of divorce proceedings when she discovered that she had cancer. “It had spread throughout my body,” she relates. “I literally had one foot in the grave.” Due to the dire situation, her doctors told her that she would have to begin aggressive chemotherapy treatments immediately. There was no time to take measures to preserve her fertility. This meant that she would almost definitely forfeit the chance to bear children in the future.
After six months of treatments, tests showed that Efrat had overcome the cancer. My children would have a mother,” she rejoiced. But there in a hidden corner of her joy buzzed a gnat of angst. “Never to hold an infant in my arms again? If I were to remarry, never would there be a child to seal the marriage? Never…”

Two and a half years ago, Efrat did remarry. The couple knew that children were impossible but they dreamed. Dreams are funny things. They do not recognize facts. Hope flutters even when facts try to annihilate it. And so she visited the doctor. “No,” he asserted, leaving not a tiny bit of room for the hope that continued to bubble up.
Then there were symptoms. Imagination? Probably. But she went for an ultrasound and there it was. A fetal heartbeat! It came as a total shock.
Her third son was born healthy and normal. Her gratitude knew no bounds “Every morning, when I wake up, I thank G-d again for the miracle that happened to me,” she says. “Thanks to Leo, we are a real family.”
Then Efrat began to hear about others. Others that she had met at the oncology clinic. Other that had survived like her. But unlike her, they had not rejoined the world of normalcy. Not only was there no joy in their lives, but they were not even able to function as wives, parents, employees, neighbors. Physically they were healthy but emotionally they remained in the world of cancer. Trapped. Unable to find the door to normal living.
Feeling so utterly blessed and exuding happiness, she longed to reach out to these others. Ezer Mizion became her vehicle.
Ezer Mizion had long ago understood the plight of the cancer survivor and thus was born one of its newest divisions, New Beginnings, which offered a vast array of professional help for those unable to cope. As an expression of gratitude for her good fortune, Efrat decided to volunteer at Ezer Mizion’s New Beginning Cancer Survivors Clinic, where, under the guidance of trained psychologists, she offers cooking workshops for cancer survivors.
“Ezer Mizion’s Survivors Clinic provides a comprehensive response for survivors,” explains Tzippy Kestenbaum, Clinic Coordinator. “At the New Beginning Clinic, survivors have an opportunity to see a variety of professionals who can help them cope with the lingering effects of the illness on them and their families. We walk the survivors through the process of re-absorption into the community, help them get psychotherapy and other necessary medical treatments. We also offer therapeutic workshops including photography, nutrition, and drama for survivors, all free of charge.”
And so the circle has turned. From despair to hope, from hope to joy and from joy to giving to others, enabling them to rise from their own to despair to hope… to joy.
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Pop A Pill?

October 10, 2012


Pop a pill and it’s all gone. It works fine for a headache but the cancer survivor can only wish that it were that easy. Even after the disease is eradicated, returning to normal life is difficult. After dealing with the nightmare of fighting a battle for his very life, the routine of business deals and water-cooler politics, car pools and PTA meetings is just not a good fit. As much as he longed for it when lying on a hospital bed, the survivor finds he cannot handle normalcy. But return he must. Ezer Mizion’s New Beginning Cancer Survivors Clinic is a multi-disciplinary center, the first and only one of its kind in Israel, specializing in the recovery process of people who were stricken with cancer.
The Clinic provides cancer survivors with counseling in a variety of medical and psycho-social areas, such as psychological, marital, medical, nutritional, social counseling and more, all under one roof. The services are provided by a staff of experts with a great deal of experience in working with cancer patients and survivors.
The Center’s staff is familiar with all the potential delayed side effects of the illness and of the oncology treatments and are well aware of the challenges, problems and sensitivities that characterize the recovery process. A visit at the New Beginning Clinic includes a day of counseling, spread over about five hours, during which each survivor receives a tailored counseling package and personal guidance.
Reintegration into normal life is a process. As part of their recovery, members of a support group were invited to be photographed at different stages. The resulting album developed into a photo exhibit at Ezer Mizion’s Oranit guest home for cancer patients in Petach Tikvah. The exhibit’s apt title: “Processes”.
The pictures in the exhibit were photographed by women recovering from cancer who participated in a support group initiated by the New Beginning Center five months ago. The support groups were led by a professional photographer and medical psychologists, who accompanied the entire course, which included 8 two-hour sessions. At these sessions, the women received tools to help them return to normal life and work through their experience via the camera lens, in the framework of a group process.
Dr. Bracha Zisser, Director of Ezer Mizion’s cancer support services: “In many cases, recovery from cancer is just the beginning of a new battle — the return to routine life. Our New Beginning Clinic innovated this original support group to give women cancer survivors the opportunity to see the saga of their recovery in a unique way. Through the camera lens, they undergo a process of self-strengthening and gain new perceptions on life. The amazing results can be seen in this very special exhibit. The public is invited to come and enjoy the beautiful photographs and the messages they bear!”
To view mothers still in the midst of their battle with cancer enjoying an Ezer Mizion-sponsored event:
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