For Israel365 founder Rabbi Tuly Weisz, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is deeply personal. Weisz told Breaking Israel News that his paternal grandfather, “nearly didn’t survive Auschwitz. He was so weak at liberation, he had to be carried to his food every day.”
When Auschwitz was liberated 75 years ago, Weisz’s grandfather, then in his early 20s, weighed just 70 pounds. “People had to carry him everywhere. He couldn’t even walk on his own. And he made a promise to Hashem (God), and he said, ‘If you enable me to survive, I will dedicate my life to helping other people.’
“And my grandfather did that. He opened up a nursing home after the war, and personally attended to the needs of the elderly. That story has been passed down from generation to generation in my family and motivated me to want to help Holocaust survivors.”
There are currently 189,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel. They are aging and vanishing at an astonishing rate. Last year alone, 15,000 passed away. Of those remaining, a large percentage suffer from dementia.
Weisz explained that, “people think dementia means that you can’t remember. Sometimes dementia means that your memory is stuck in a particular time, often in youth, and often in traumatic experiences. So you have this horrific situation where Holocaust survivors are stuck in the concentration camps in their minds. The dementia needs of this population are acute.”
Beginning months before the coronavirus crisis, the Israel365 Charity Fund for Holocaust Survivors began working closely with Melebev, an Israeli organization that specializes in caring for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Initial services included delivering food on a daily basis and providing specialized Alzheimer’s therapy.
When survivors became unable to leave their homes, the Israel365 Charity Fund worked with Melabev to provide home visitations. Weisz explained how crucial those home therapy sessions were. “In addition to the therapeutic benefits, we have seen that [our home visits] have saved lives.” He recounted a case where one of the therapists came into the home of an elderly survivor and noticed blood on the floor. She immediately called the paramedics and the Holocaust survivor was rushed to the hospital, where the doctors were able to stop the bleeding and save her life.
As the coronavirus guidelines became even more restrictive, home visits were considered too risky. So the Israel365 Charity Fund pivoted and began offering therapy sessions over the internet.
Obviously, this raised new challenges, since not all Holocaust survivors even have internet access, let alone familiarity with video-conferencing. Where possible, Israel365 has been relying on caregivers to manage the technology and help facilitate the virtual therapy sessions.
Yom HaShoah brought an even more heartrending challenge. Said Weisz, “We couldn’t bear the idea of Holocaust survivors being isolated and by themselves during the two-minute siren and national moment of silence throughout Israel. We worked with Melabev and organized volunteers to visit the homes of Holocaust survivors, to stand with them during today’s memorial siren.
“At a time of profound isolation, I felt that there’s nothing more important than distributing free Bibles – to help with the isolation and to bring comfort. Nothing brings as much comfort as God’s word,” Weisz elaborated about the effort to equip volunteers with a rose and a copy of The Israel Bible to gift each survivor.
The unique challenges facing Holocaust survivors, especially at this time, resonate with Israel365’s Christian donors. “Israel365 donors have been extremely generous recently, helping the Holocaust survivors who are battling corona and who are isolated at home. It’s so heartwarming that Christians are standing with the people of Israel at this difficult moment,” he commented.
Weisz related another partnership between Israel365 and Christians helping Israel during these challenging days. Shirley Burdick, a Christian living in Israel, runs an organization called Ten Gentiles.
Thus said the lord of Hosts: In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold—they will take hold of every Yehudi by a corner of his cloak and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that Hashem is with you.” Zechariah 8:23
Burdick’s organization was able to deliver approximately 15,000 protective face masks from China. She gave 500 masks to the Israel365 Charity Fund, all of which have been distributed in the past few days.
Burdick told Breaking Israel News how her work inspired Chinese Christians to make such a sizable donation. “These are Christians I met here in Israel. They actually have been to Israel quite a few times, but they have always done the tourist tourist thing.”
Wanting them to have a deeper experience of Israel and her people, Burdick took them to a Jerusalem synagogue for the festive Friday night service and she introduced them to the prayers in the Jewish prayer book.
“Once they were there, they were moved to tears. They could see the connection that Jewish people have with Hashem is continuous, is from days of old and is a real connection.”
Burdick, who remained in touch after the visitors returned to China said, “This time, with coronavirus, they really felt they needed to do something. One model we push is what Ruth in the Bible said.”
But Rut replied, “Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Ruth 1:16
“We are hoping to pull together another shipment. So let’s pray that more Gentile Christians will open their eyes to see Israel, to see the Jewish people, to see God’s continuous work, and the continuous relationship with the Jewish people and to be a part of God’s restoration of Israel. We want them to come alongside the Jewish people as Gentile Christians, to help, to love, to comfort,” Burdick elaborated.
Even with all this heartwarming Christian support, there is so much more that could be done. Weisz explained that 25% of the Holocaust survivors in Israel today are living below the poverty line. “That means they have to make decisions like ‘Do I buy food or do I buy medication?’ No Holocaust survivors should have to choose between food and medication,” he asserted.
Your generous donation to the Israel365 Charity Fund Holocaust survivor campaign can help alleviate the need for such devistating decisions.