Haifa Home residents put their artwork on display
By: ICEJ Staff Writers

The ICEJ’s Home for Holocaust survivors in Haifa provides a warm, loving community for its elderly residents. With the help of our caring staff, the residents are able to live out their lives with dignity among fellow survivors who also suffered pain and loss in the Holocaust. Here are some of the latest happenings at the Haifa Home. 
A Week of Creativity and Connection 
In late April, the Haifa Home observed the solemn occasion of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) with remembrance ceremonies attended by hundreds of Holocaust survivors, IDF soldiers, Israeli schoolchildren, Knesset members, Haifa city officials, local rabbis, and diplomats from the embassies of Russia, Romania, Taiwan, and India. 

Just a few days later, our Home was buzzing with excitement and creativity as residents and visitors alike came together for several colourful and enriching activities. 

A special week of events began with the Haifa Home’s first art exhibition showcasing the artworks of our residents. The exhibit’s theme was “Hope expressed in art.” Guided by the Home’s dedicated art therapist, Nancy, the residents poured their hearts into their creations, drawing inspiration from Psalm 23, springtime and other subjects. Nancy uses creative therapy to help residents find calmness and tap into their creative potential. The art exhibit was a testament to the resilience and creativity of our dear Holocaust survivors. Through their artwork, they painted beautiful, vivid images of their life journeys, capturing above all their inner fortitude and hope.   

“As I stand here surrounded by your incredible artwork, I am reminded of the strength that is within each of you,” said Yudit Setz, head of our team of Christian volunteers at the Haifa Home. 

Among the proud exhibitors was Manya, an artist, author and poet whose words filled the exhibition hall. The audience was especially moved by her poem, “Art at an Old Age,” in which she expresses what inspires her to renewed hope and purpose:   

Manya holding her poem, "Art at and Old Age."
Manya holding her poem, “Art at and Old Age.”

To draw in old age, 
Is a challenge. 
But every drawing gives encouragement, 
And prevents degeneration. 
For in old age to experience thrills, 
Is like a stream of happiness that flows. 
It’s the feeling of renewal, 
And hearing a compliment, 
Adds to the excitement.   

The residents then gathered for the screening of a short film capturing the highlights of their art classes together. Laughter filled the room as they watched themselves at work. The evening concluded with speeches and a collective sense of pride in their art.    

The next activity was a special lecture and workshop led by renowned Israeli artist Sabina Saad. As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Sabina’s connection to the residents was obvious, and her presence was welcomed with much gratitude. In the Home’s museum on the Holocaust, where many of Sabina’s pieces are displayed, she shared her personal story and explained how she developed her art skills later in life. Then with warmth and humility, Sabina led the survivors in a fun activity, guiding them in crafting Magen David (Star of David) hats out of newspaper. 

“It is a privilege to come here and be with you in this loving environment,” Sabina remarked. “I am so honoured and pleased to share this moment of creativity and connection with each of you.” 

The workshop then concluded with residents and visitors joyously posing for photos with their creative hats.  

Also, a class of third graders from a nearby school came to see the exhibition and, under the guidance of our art therapist, did an art project together with our different residents. The children did not want to leave and the connection between the survivors and the children was exciting to see. The children asked many questions and very much want to return.  

Beauty contestant and Holocaust Survivor, Rita.
Beauty contestant and Holocaust Survivor, Rita.

A Beauty Contest that Celebrates Life 
A new documentary by German filmmaker Radek Wegrzyn features many of our residents, with Rita as the main character. Entitled “Miss Holocaust Survivor – A Beauty Contest that Celebrates Life,” the film seeks to bring attention to the Holocaust in a way that the world will find hard to forget. In addition, the filming process offered its unique participants a time to be pampered and feel special. 

Filmmaker Radek Wegrzyn and our ICEJ team at the first film screening at the Haifa Home.
Filmmaker Radek Wegrzyn and our ICEJ team at the first film screening at the Haifa Home.

The annual ‘Miss Holocaust Survivor’ beauty contest was conceived by a local Israeli psychiatrist who felt it would give the elderly women a moment to recapture the beauty of their youth, especially since certain rites of passage were robbed from them as youngsters caught up in World War II. Every year, the event has attracted much media attention from all over the world, and also found its critics. Over time, the beauty contest also has drawn several documentary makers who made fascinating films about the event. One of them was Radek Wegrzyn, who has produced a documentary with a lot of creativity and professionalism, and a special personal connection to the survivors featured in the main roles.  

Residents of the Haifa Home watching the film.
Residents of the Haifa Home watching the film.

After the first screening at the Haifa Home in July 2022, the documentary has since been presented in a variety of countries and film festivals. For example, the film was featured in the Golden Panda Film Festival in China and would have won first prize if politics had not intervened. 

The film also received good reviews in various venues where it was shown in Germany, such as the Max Ophuels Film Festival, as well as Holocaust Education Institutions in Berlin, Frankfurt and Wolfsburg. In the USA, it had a very well-received screening at the Miami Jewish Film Festival and screenings at the American Holocaust Education Institutions. Most recently, it was awarded the very prestigious Ernst-Lubitsch Prize in Germany. 

It has been wonderful to see how our Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors is being used to not only impact the many people who visit and connect with us, but that it also will keep the memory of the Holocaust alive through TV programs and documentary films for many years to come.   

Taiwan stands with Israel 
Every Christian who comes to Israel at this very difficult time of conflict and crisis is warmly welcomed. At the Haifa Home, we were honoured to receive a group of 20 pastors from Taiwan who came with our ICEJ-Taiwan national directors. Our residents find so much encouragement and comfort from the fact that there are Christians who love and support Israel, especially now! 

Genia and her Ukrainian caregiver, Lena.
Genia and her Ukrainian caregiver, Lena.

A beautiful life story 
Genia Schwartzbert, a long-time resident of the Haifa Home, passed away at the remarkable age of almost 101. Her life was marked by unimaginable hardship and loss, not only during the Holocaust but also when she made Aliyah with her husband to Israel in 1957. There, she lost her husband at a young age and later her eldest son and grandson. Despite all this trauma, Genia was such a loving person.  

For the last six years, she has been taken care of round-the-clock by Lena, a caregiver from Ukraine. After Genia’s passing, Lena shared with us how she had never really known love until she came to the Home. Her childhood had been difficult, and her mother never hugged her. But through her time caring for Genia, she learned what love truly is. The experience even showed her what it meant to be loved by God. Genia would always hug and kiss her, and they had developed this most loving relationship of mother and daughter. What a beautiful story of how lives can impact each other in ways we would never dream of.   

Please support our very important work of caring for these precious Holocaust survivors at the Haifa Home. 

Donate today at: give.icej.org/survivors