ICEJ Team in Haifa

by Yudit Setz, ICEJ AID deputy director

“For such a time as this …” (Esther 4:14) We had just read this verse from the Book of Esther during Purim in early March when the Coronavirus first broke out in Israel. The words kept resonating in our spirits, as we sensed that God indeed had called us “for such a time as this…”

Before it even became an official health rule, we already decided to restrict our ourselves to our homes and workplace, and not to visit any public areas, including shops and malls. Soon after, the elderly residents of the Haifa Home were all required to stay inside their apartments. They could not even come to the community dining hall for meals together. But because of our timely decision to self-quarantine, we were the only ones in a position to take on the daily care of the 70 Holocaust survivors residing at the Haifa Home during the Corona crisis.

“We” are the ICEJ’s team of seven Christian staff and volunteers at our Home for Holocaust Survivors in Haifa. Besides my husband Will and myself, the team includes a nurse, a physiotherapist, and three young German girls who have volunteered a year of service at the Haifa Home. The German volunteers were even being summoned home by their government due to the viral threat, but they insisted on staying to serve those living at the Haifa Home. “Going back to Germany was never an option,” said Marleen. “I came here to help the Holocaust survivors, especially during these difficult times.”

Every day, our team began putting on medical masks and gloves and visiting each resident in their apartments. We sit with them, bring food, provide nursing care and physio exercise, do handiwork around their apartments, and solve their needs. It has been a time of building deeper trust and love with each one of them. The companionship is more precious to them than we may realize. It has been a real privilege to serve them in this way!

Several times each week, we have checked their temperatures and blood pressure. We are grateful to report that every one of these dear Holocaust survivors has been kept safe from the virus and is in relatively good health for their age.

“The past few weeks have been really special and satisfying,” said Deborah, our volunteer physiotherapist. “I felt fortunate to be here at this unusual time and help them as much as I can.”

A different Passover celebration

A traditional song at the Passover seder asks: “Why is this night different from other nights?” Besides the eating of unleavened bread noted in the song, this year also was different because all of Israel celebrated the Pessach seder in isolation at home, without any extended family. Passover is usually a large family event, so this was not easy, especially for the elderly.

In most years, some of our residents join their children and grandchildren, while the rest gather in the Home’s dining room for a community seder. This year, however, they all had to stay in their apartments. To make it special for them, we went room by room and brought everyone gifts and a festive meal, and sang some of their favorite Passover songs.

Isolation brings back memories

For some Holocaust survivors, especially those slowly developing dementia or Alzheimer’s, the time spent alone in their rooms is bringing back bad memories of the war years. Whenever we visit 98-year-old Miriam, she immediately takes you back to her horrific youth in ghettos and Nazi camps, ending with Auschwitz. Even when we try to change the subject, she has trouble leaving that dark time behind. But a Finnish Christian couple thought to send a therapeutic doll, which our volunteer Kerstin has used with Miriam to help her have some fun and laughter with this “baby”.

Repairs big and small

Every day, we knock on the doors of the residents and enter for a chat, some exercise, and a cup of coffee, plus tending to whatever they need for that day. One Shabbat, we found 94-year-old Shlomo laying on his bed with a winter hat on his head. He was freezing, as his heater had stopped working. So, Will immediately got a ladder and fixed his heating system. After some chocolates and a talk, we left Shlomo warm and happy again.

On another occasion, one of our volunteers found that Shlomo could not get his blood pressure meter going. It needed new batteries and was fixed in minutes. “God sent you today to help me”, Shlomo said gratefully.

Cleaning and laundry

Besides other duties, our German volunteers Kerstin and Marleen spend time cleaning apartments and keeping residents happy. Even simple tasks like folding laundry have become fun when the residents help out. And the commitment of the Christian volunteers has left a deep impression on many of the Holocaust survivors. “Before the Corona, we used to play cards every night, we had dances and gymnastics, and now we have to sit alone in our houses”, said Naomi, an 86 year-old survivor from Romania. “These girls come in with a mask and gloves, sit a few feet away, and we have good talks. They tell me, ‘I love you like my grandmother.’”

Home deliveries around Haifa

Meantime, the ICEJ team also helped our local charitable partner to deliver boxes of food to hundreds of other Holocaust survivors and elderly confined to their homes throughout the Haifa area. The front door deliveries were greatly appreciated. One Holocaust survivor remarked: “I didn’t have bread for two weeks. That hasn’t happened since I was in Auschwitz.” Helping while we still can! Time is running out. There are many Holocaust survivors waiting to find a loving home and community like the Haifa Home. With no government funding, our assisted-living Home is completely dependent on donors such as you! The Coronavirus threat has made our work there even more challenging. With the growing needs of the ever-aging residents, we need your help! Please give generously and show your love for these dear Holocaust survivors.

You can even ‘Adopt a Holocaust Survivor’ by contacting