Holocaust Survivors Alone in Covid 19

by Susan Heagy

After 16 years of visiting Survivors, repairing their homes, delivering birthday flowers and taking volunteers to visit- I felt comfortable and relaxed in our methods.  We knew so many Survivors personally and could tell who their children or caretakers were or narrate their war histories.

But in February / March of this year, it all changed.  Israel, along with most of the world, was put into lockdown due to the Coronavirus.  We could not leave our homes, not permitted to visit the elderly and our visitation ended.  Most of our communication came to stop. I began to ask myself, “Now what?  How do we go forward?”

During the first few months, in Akko, we facilitated food delivery by the Army, delivered meals from another source, purchased and delivered groceries- all to the door, stepping away and waiting for them to retrieve it.

Travel limitations were in place so we could not go to other cities to visit.  Besides, we no longer had a car to travel anywhere.  Bus, taxi and walking were our mode of travel.

In Akko, three hostels, where over 120 of our Survivors live, were locked down and we were barred from entering.  To this date we still are not allowed to enter two of them.  One diviation from this rule was picking up prescriptions and delivering them to the Survivors.

The flower shop was closed so no birthday flowers.  We mailed their cards and sent other cards in three languages to cheer them up.  The post office was open but we would stand in line for 2-3 hours before being able to purchase stamps.

It was also forbidden to visit Survivors in their own homes.  For birthdays we bought some store packaged cakes and either delivered them to their door or, if capable, they came outside to see us and receive birthday greetings- social distancing, of course!

As we got into summer, the isolation was wearing on the Survivors.  We did some phone calls and they were desperate to have a conversation.  We also took a few of them to the doctor or hospital for appointments, everyone wearing masks and we tried not to touch them, even helping them into the taxi.

We were given a special task when 8000 masks were donated for distribution to the Survivors.  For this vital need we were allowed to enter two of the three hostels and take them door to door.  It was great to see their faces- no contact!- but some of them reached out just to touch our hands or stroke our arms.  Many smiles, relief to hear words of encouragement and “I love you!” in their language.

The masks were extremely welcome, as were the letters from their Adopters.  So grateful God gave us another way to at least see them and let them know they are not forgotten.

They were desperate, depressed and terribly lonely.  Those with grandchildren could not see them.  Some children of Survivors were in poor health and could not come visit either.  It was almost like a groaning we could feel through them all.

When we received an invitation from a kosher bakery to give the Survivors pastries and breads left over in the middle of the week, we were glad to accept.  Picking the baked goods up on Tuesday evening, I repackaged them into ziploc bags and prepared them for distribution.  This was the beginning of an amazing service!  Who would have thought pastries would be exciting?!

One month later our new accountant, Eyal, arranged for us to receive 20 fresh challa every week, the day before Shabbat.  Giving challa, pastries, breadsticks and sometimes cakes became the highlight of their week.  One hostel lets us deliver them directly to their door.  We are careful to not go in, even though they are begging us to enter. Even so, there are hands sneaking out to stroke us or even trying to steal a kiss.  I think they are more afraid of the loneliness than the possibility of a virus.

Other services we offer still include advocacy with the social services, clinics, paperwork and medicines.  A big part of what we do is encouragement, giving them a reason to smile and continue on.

As we reach the end of August I am asking God what is next?  How do we go forward?  With no volunteers allowed into a closed border, what are our options? We are so limited in our service to them, what difference can we make in their lives?

It is obvious that much of what has been done in the past through AHI will not be in the future.   And what more will be done in the future is still not yet revealed.  Our world has changed in the year 2020.  If it is hard for us, think how difficult it is for the elderly.

Please, join us in prayer for direction in how best to bless the Survivors and let them know Adonai loves them so very much.  It is our desire to follow the plan God has for us.  We desperately want to be a blessing to His beloved Survivors.  Thank you for being part of this special work.

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