Growing Roots in the Land of their FathersPublished on: 6.3.2023
By: Yudit Setz
The ICEJ’s Home for Holocaust survivors in Haifa has 17 new residents who recently arrived in Israel from Ukraine. Most did not voluntarily choose to make Aliyah, they were forced to flee their homes, friends and everything they had known and came to Israel with a lone suitcase of belongings. Besides needing a place to live, clothing, and other basics, their greatest need is to connect to other people, even find a community where they can put down roots in the Land of their forefathers.
The tongue of the prophets
Many of these new residents only speak Ukrainian and Russian, while a few know a little English. Sometimes they feel helpless in not being able to communicate with others, or read the names of the streets, or write their own name for local Israelis.
We decided to meet this challenge by offering them Hebrew lessons at the Haifa Home. Our newest ICEJ staff member, Maria, is a teacher and she began teaching Hebrew to these precious survivors.
After mastering the Hebrew alphabet, they slowly begin learning words and are given homework to do, and they love it!
One elderly ‘student’ commented that, “We are so blessed to have our lessons here. Many people spend so much time going somewhere for language lessons, but we can study it almost from our home. Our teacher really wants us to be successful and to learn Hebrew. It is so nice!”
Another new resident from Ukraine thanked our team for the work we are doing, saying: “Learning Hebrew is very important, but it doesn’t really matter if the student learns it fluently or not. The most important thing is that we communicate with each other, come together, and create a community. By doing this you are making our lives longer.”
Yet another student was eager to share her excitement about the Hebrew lessons.
“When the maintenance man came by to fix something in my home, I had offered him some cakes, which he didn’t want. However, he told me that he would like some “mayim” (water) and for the first time I understood what he wanted! And I gave him glass of water.”
Now it’s time to learn more about Rivka, one of our newest residents at the Haifa Home who is currently 85 years old. Please follow along as she tells her story of surviving the Holocaust…
“I was born in Romania, in the city of Iasi, which suffered the worst of Romania’s pogroms. Ten thousand Jewish people found their death there in 1941. Before the war started, we were living in a nice, big house with a lovely garden that my grandmother bought with gold. My father worked tirelessly as a wood etcher and was a wealthy man. When the Germans came, we were thrown out of our home and left with nothing. People from rural areas were moved into our home.
After the eviction, we had to rent apartments and moved several streets during that time. In the winter of 1941, my father was sent to forced labour in the city of Alba Iulia. My mother was left to fend for herself and her three children.
When my father came back, he was very sick. He had lost half his weight and was a broken man. He also came back with asthma, which affected him for the remainder of his life.
After the war, we were not permitted to leave for Israel. Some people, like my brother, made their way to Israel anyway, then called “Palestine”, passing through several other countries, but they were denied entry by the British and sent to Cyprus.
Meanwhile, my family and I stayed in Romania, in the city of Bucharest. As we waited, the times were not easy, as there was hardly any food. In 1950, we finally received passports and could leave. We sailed to Israel and arrived three days later. I was 12 and a half years old. Upon our arrival, we were sprayed against lice, and then sent to Atlit, where we were housed in a residence formerly belonging to the English army. Each family received a blanket. I recall, my father brought two empty orange crates and my mother placed a tablecloth over them and that was our dining table. Regardless, my father said, “It’s so wonderful to be in Israel!”
We lived in Atlit for eight months, and then we were moved to Tirat HaCarmel, where we stayed in a tent. Afterwards we lived in a shed for two years, until finally we were permanently housed. Later, I met my husband Eliezer, a Holocaust survivor also from Romania. We lived in Tirat HaCarmel and had two children, from which we have four grandchildren.
Two years ago, my husband got a very severe case of dementia and had to be moved to a nursing home. Living alone was difficult for me, and so finally I made the decision to move to the Haifa home. I heard about it from my cousin, who has been living here already for ten years.
I have no words. I was welcomed so beautifully. I already have a group of friends, and I sit with them every day after dinner to talk about all kinds of subjects that are important to us. If I had known earlier what this place was like, I would have moved here years ago!”
In the Haifa Home for Holocaust survivors, every birthday is special and a victory of life! For the residents, whose ages vary from 80s to 90s, and even near or past 100 years old, many no longer look forward to aging, but their birthday is celebrated nonetheless!
The ICEJ team of workers and volunteers take it upon themselves to celebrate each and every birthday, and to visit the celebrant with a song, balloons and a personalised card just for them.
“It’s amazing that you all came to surprise me like this”, said resident Emma Kleiner on her birthday. “It makes a person feel not so all alone.”
It is important to our team that our residents feel seen, cared for, and uplifted.
“It’s not about presents or cake,” said Chaya, who just celebrated her 90th birthday. “It’s the personal attention that matters to us.”
Consider partnering with us in caring for these precious Holocaust survivors by donating at: give.icej.org/survivors