By Susan Heagy
In 2004 God made it clear what His mandate was for us to stay on track: “It’s about the People. It is all about the People.”
Understanding this statement to mean the Holocaust Survivors, it was a straight-forward task that our focus should be on them. Nothing more was expected than to serve them. The Holocaust Survivors are our reason and purpose for our non-profit AHI, both in the USA and ISRAEL: Giving compassion and love, comfort and relief from their past experiences and loneliness and needs in this present day.
But over the years we have discovered His meaning has expanded to even more people. This last year in particular we have become more aware of the increase. Yes, the Survivors remain our #1 priority, but there are also others included…
AHI Boards and main staff – we have all been moved to continually dedicate ourselves to the Survivors, right through to the last one. And after that? Their children suffer from second hand trauma and are called the 2nd Generation Holocaust Survivors.
Translators– When a translator comes to assist us, they are unaware of what is waiting for them. After their first visit there are tears and comments of “I just didn’t really know. I did not really understand until I heard their words.” After that initial reaction, bonds form as they repeatedly visit. Sadness is part of their days as we hear of each Survivor passing away.
Volunteers– When they arrive there is the excitement of being in Israel and the new ‘adventure’ of meeting Survivors of WWII. After visiting
those Survivors there is awe, tears, an outpouring of compassion and a great desire to visit more and more Survivors. Unexpectedly for them, there is usually a connection to one Survivor in particular.
As a volunteer recently said, “When you come here, you are changed.” It is true. Volunteers return home changed.
Service Project Volunteers– We all have gifts and talents and some choose to use theirs to bless the Survivors! We so appreciate them and their service! From music to pedicures, renovations and needlework- it is all appreicated!
Adopters– Accepting the assignment of a Holocaust Survivor from WWII is an important position to assume. It takes dedication and faithfulness to write, pray for their Survivor and support them with a donation each month if possible. It is a chance to give without expecting return; blessing a person who survived the horrors of an evil war and who may never write back. But sometimes a Survivor will suddenly want to answer their Adopter. A great joy to receive a note from them; sometimes followed by sadness from the dreaded message of their passing away. Adopters too are changed by the experience of touching the life of a Holocaust Survivor.
Israeli volunteers– Many times Israelis have a fear of spending time with the Survivors of the Holocaust as it means facing one of the worst memories of the Jewish People. Yet, when they take that step and enter their homes, you see the love that flows out and the connection they find with those who are living history. They too are changed and find themselves drawn to these precious and resilient people, hanging on their every word.
Arabs– We have discovered there is a teaching among some of the Arabs in Israel that those called Holocaust Survivors actually did not suffer any tragedy and became wealthy from the war. When we have the opportunity to enlighten them with the truth, they are truly astounded. Again we hear the words, “We didn’t know! We had no idea of this!” Their outlook on the Jewish people then changes.
Israeli government agencies– Those working hard in the Israeli government to try to accomplish what is needed among the elderly are surprised to find there are Gentiles wanting to help. Both they and the Survivors are shocked to find out someone outside of Israel cares. Their perspective is definitely changed.
Congregations, churches, temples– When we go and speak, presenting the traumatic past of the Survivors, and their present filled with loneliness and need, the compassion of these congregations respond in the form of adoptions, donations and sometimes coming to Israel. Again, they gain a new perspective on the People of the Book and Israel.
Students and teachers– speaking in schools has been a privilege with huge dividends. Not just to share the history of the Holocaust, which is vital, but the chance to make that portion of history personal. Telling the accounts of the Survivors, at their own request, brings home to the students the Holocaust happened to real people. And, always, we remind them as the next generation, they are the new Survivors with the responsibility to keep these experiences alive.
WWII Veterans– as we travel and share about the Holocaust and the Survivors, we have opportunities to meet the important men and women who were responsible as a whole for defeating Hitler and gaining the freedom of the Jewish captives. It is an honor to learn from then about the war. Some have first-hand accounts of meeting the Survivors in the camps at liberation.
Media recipients– Now we are utilizing TV, radio, email, Facebook, internet and various media methods to reach many more people; the public whom we do not know. It is a growing awareness that a large majority of people worldwide do not know about the Holocaust or the Survivors still living today.
Myself– It is likely the one who has changed the most by what we do, by who the Survivors are, is myself. Having gone to Israel with no intention of staying, angry about God sending me to see elderly people, and being in a country other than the USA… my perspective changed 180 degrees. I obeyed what God told
me to do only because I knew I should. God changed me to have compassion and love for the Holocaust Survivors. He gave me a desire to meet their needs. He showed me how much others need to be involved. As things changed and grew, God has led us all in the best way we can help the Survivors overcome their past.
Now, as 2016 closes, and I see the vast increase God has brought to educate people around the world, I am in awe.
Yes, it is “about the People.” It is about ALL the people. Those who receive, those who give and those who learn. I thank HaShem for His blessing for His People, and that each one of us can be a part of it.
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