Holocaust Survivors and COVID-19

by Susan Heagy

January 2020 marked 16 years of serving the Holocaust Survivors in Israel. In all these years we  have seen many different life events among them and weathered some difficult times.  But nothing could have prepared us for being completely cut off physically from the Survivors.

Our first indication of change was the first week of March. All hostels, where some Survivors live, were locked and we were barred from visiting and could not even deliver birthday flowers or letters.

Within a few days we were told birthday flowers were forbidden to any Survivors.  This is a huge disappointment for them. We reluctantly told the flower shop to cancel all orders until further notice.

As the virus spread here in Israel we had our first fatality.  Almost symbolically it was a Holocaust Survivor.  Arie Even, 88 years old from Hungary, who moved to Israel in 1949.

The elderly are most at risk with this virus and Israel is desperate to keep them as safe as possible.  Therefore, all those 70 years and older were told to stay home and not leave.

This presents new problems for some of them- how will they get food?  Pay bills? Get money from their bank?

It also gave us a challenge as our entire focus is on communication, encouragement, physical visits and our liberal practice of giving hugs.

Immediately I gave instructions to our translators, Leo and Liza, to begin calling all our Survivors.  Find out what their needs are, give them encouragement, offer prayer and just listen as they talk.

What did we find out on those calls?  They are scared, frightened.  The lock down reminds them of those days in the Holocaust.  Forced to stay home, sneaking out for food, waiting for the knock on the door that will take one or all of them to a concentration camp or a mass killing.

Every few days we receive new guidelines for our home isolation in the whole country of Israel.  Each day I resolve we will find ways to help the Survivors as their needs rise.

First we found out there were 8 Survivors who were alone, with no family or help, who needed food.  Through phone calls we discovered the Army (IDF) is distributing food to the elderly to help them stay home.  So, we added the names of those who were in need.  After that we began calling other Survivors to make sure they were on the list to be cared for.

Next we had a Survivor distraught over her washing machine breaking down.  It was old, could we fix it?  Through a few more phone calls we sent a repairman who was able to make the repair.  Her reaction? Dancing, laughing and crying!  There was a deeper meaning in this repair; she said afterward, “The machine was old like me, but I thought it would last the same as me.  I thought we would give out together.”  The fear was evident and the relief profound.

The post office continues to operate so I prepared and mailed 300 cards and letters of encouragement to send to those in Akko.  I am now preparing another 300 for Survivors in other communities.  We also continue to translate letters from the adopters of Survivors and send those along with birthday cards.

The daily phone calls are a lifeline and Leo is receiving requests for help and various questions.  One request is for fresh vegetables and fruit.  This is a bit more of a challenge but next week we hope to arrange a delivery.

Our van has been totaled by the insurance company but we cannot receive any compensation as all businesses have been closed.  Therefore we currently are without a car.  However, it has been a minimal need since we are in lockdown.  I simply walk the 2 miles to the post office!

Though we are talking with the Survivors by phone, and extremely grateful for the government services available, the real backbone of assisting them is prayer.

In this we really need to stand together, on our knees, to pray and plead for the Survivors’ physical and emotion well being.  But more than that, pray for them to be aware of their Messiah’s love for them in this lonely and disturbing time.  Please, stand in the gap for these last of the Holocaust Survivors.

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