Desperate For a Touch

by Susan Heagy

I saw a comment the other day “So far we are in our 5th year of 2020.”  It certainly feels that way sometimes.

Here in Israel it has been like the Karate Kid movie, instead saying “Mask on! Mask off!” or like a yo-yo, down due to lockdown, up coming out of the lockdown, then down locked in again, now going up as they slowly release us…

  • In the midst of the lockdown, as a non-profit, we have been allowed to continue assisting the Survivors.  It is a blessing.  Every week we continue to hand out challa, supplied by the accounting firm for our non-profit here in Israel, and also pastries from Moti’s Cafe.  We also still deliver letters from Adopters and flowers or gifts for birthdays.  Through these services we consistently see 45+ Survivors in 5-6 days’ time.

This week 40 handmade quilts from the USA were delivered to us and we will begin handing those out as well.  We are grateful to Tikvah Rabah, IFO and Joseph Project who all had a part from creation to delivery.

Now imagine being 90 years old, plus or minus a few years, and having to adjust constantly.  Difficult, right?  How can they keep straight what to do?  Well, it differs from one Survivor to another.

Sometimes I have been amazed.  Many of these Holocaust Survivors have been so resilient and kept track, to adjust as needed.  I visited Golda who will be 98 years old in December.  She remembered me, she laughed and immediately put out her elbow to bump with mine since we cannot hug!  She invited me in for coffee but I declined as I am continuing to protect them by limiting my interactions.  But I so wanted to go in and visit!  Golda understood my limited Russian and charades and was so pleased to receive some challa and attention.  It gave me a laugh and joy to see her so sharp.

Then we visited another Survivor whose daughter moved in with her, to care for her during the virus lockdown.  Along with that move came a toddler and a baby.  I think they entertained their great-grandmother but she also looked worn out!

Two weeks ago I climbed five flights of stairs to give a Survivor a loaf of challa and a small gift for Sukkot.  When someone is on such a high floor they do not go out much or get many visitors.  And she lives alone.  When I knocked on the door she was timid to open it but then she recognized me and wanted me to go in.  I so wanted to but I continue to distance for their protection.  But what she wanted and needed was to be touched.  As I handed her the bag she reached out carefully and lightly touched my arm.  Next I heard a sigh.  Her hand lay on my arm, almost like a butterfly as I could barely feel it.  I looked at her and she was just staring at her hand on my arm and a smile slowly came across her face.  I waited.  Finally, she removed her hand, satisfied for the moment.  For just a short while, loneliness had backed away.

We still get calls when a ride is needed to a doctor or when they feel bad.  This week a Survivor called asking for help with pain management.  I went over and helped her find which medicine she needed.  It was new, unopened, and she did not remember it could help.  But her biggest need was human touch and company.  With an outgoing personality, she is basically dying on the vine by being closed in during this pandemic.  Pain is more difficult when you are alone.

Sometimes we are given sad news of when someone has passed away or moved on to an elderly house.  Our list just for Akko is now 284 Survivors.  That is down from our 2006 original list of 650 Survivors.  And we still stay in touch with Holocaust Survivors in several other cities.

The hostels have been forced to bar our entry to protect those living there.  We can only give the guard what we have for the Survivors for delivery.  Sad.  We almost never get to see them, in fact, we have not seen some since spring.  Occasionally I get a break.  The other day one of them came out of the hostel to throw away his trash.  I called him over to the car, gave him a bag of pastries and we did a selfie!  He had a big smile.

In the midst of these challenging times we are grateful to be able to still stay in touch through the post and through phone calls in addition to our deliveries.  From the street or hallway I pull my mask down so they can see a smile and blow kisses to them.  “I love you!” I tell them in Russian and usually get rewarded with a big smile and blessings in return.  Some of the men smile and blush at blown kisses, quickly disappearing back behind their doors.

Imagine the care for your own elderly parents or grandparents, just simple daily needs.  Some of you know how difficult this year has been for your own elderly relatives.  Now multiply that to 250+.  And many of the Survivors have no family or none nearby to give assistance.

We cannot answer all their needs.  We cannot supply everything they want.  I even asked the Lord how we can help so many?!  His answer?  “One at a time.”

Our work here is to bring hope, Abundant Hope.  To let the Survivors of the terrible Holocaust know we have not forgotten them and WILL NOT forget them.  We care.  And Adonai cares.

It is our message to them.  They have a Heavenly Abba waiting to embrace them.  They can experience His touch and His arms around them when no one else can.  It is our prayer they will recognize the infinite love of their own Messiah today, before it is too late.

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