Svetlana at Election
By: Yudit Setz

In early November, Israelis headed for the ballot box again. For our new residents at the Haifa Home from Ukraine, it was a special, even festive day. Together, we went to the voting station at a school close by. There was excitement in the air, as for the first time they could vote in Israel.

“I am so happy today that I participated in the elections and that I am really part of my new homeland now. I was able to select who I wanted, and it made me feel Israeli,” said Lena, smiling.

Lena came to Israel from Kharkov several months ago, one of 17 elderly Holocaust survivors rescued from the war in Ukraine last year who now live in our special Haifa Home for Holocaust survivors.

It was an exciting day as well for 89-year-old Svetlana. With the new walker she received the day before, we made our way to the voting booth and she, too, proudly cast her first vote in Israel.

A widow of 89, Svetlana left Kramatorsk in March. This is the second major war in her life, as she was eight years old when the Holocaust started. From that time, she remembers bombings and loud aircraft. Her mother dug a trench in the back yard and covered it with twigs and earth. When they heard the planes, they would run and hide in the trench.

Last Spring, she heard that familiar sound again from childhood. She was standing at her kitchen table cutting vegetables, when suddenly she heard planes roar overhead, followed by loud explosions. This time, the planes were not German but Russian.

Svetlana shared other Holocaust memories with us. When the Nazis came, they began mass shootings. They gathered a large group of people and ordered them into the town’s water tower. The place was absolutely packed. Then a soldier threw a bomb. Many people lost their lives, but because the place was so full, those who entered first survived. Svetlana and her family were among the survivors. After the German soldiers left, they climbed out of the tower. She still remembers passing over heaps of dead bodies.

More than 80 years have passed. After Russia attacked Ukraine last Spring, Svetlana fled Kramatorsk and made it to Budapest. A few months ago, she arrived in Israel and now lives in the Haifa Home.

Svetlana’s only son, who lived in Mariupol with his family, soon fled to Belgium. Her only brother passed away from Covid a year ago. In Israel, we have become Svetlana’s new family, as our ICEJ team from different countries now take care of her.

“I can’t understand what is going on nowadays. It looks like everything is turned upside down”, she recently remarked. “When I was a child my father and my uncle fought together with the Russians against Hitler’s Germany, but today Russian aircraft bomb my hometown, and people from Germany serve and help me.”

aaron and Jordayna McDowell

All the way from down under
Eleven years ago, Ruth, the wife of our ICEJ-New Zealand national director Derek McDowell, passed away. In Ruth’s memory, money was donated to beautify the Haifa Home and a sign was put up on our street in her honour. The sign beautifully expressed Ruth’s life and became a positive testimony to many Israelis who walked by. The sign reads: “As a true friend of Israel, Ruth lived out the essence of her biblical namesake. ‘Your people are my people, and your God is my God.’ (Ruth 1:16)” This also expresses how we feel.

In December, Ruth and Derek’s eldest son, Aaron, came with his wife all the way from New Zealand for what became a very moving visit to Ruth’s memorial.

“Thank you very much for the wonderful visit today”, Aaron said afterwards. “It was so special to see Mum’s memorial and I was delighted to get so much more from the visit. It’s incredible what the Home has done and is still doing. What a great contribution.”

Alexander and Karolin with Zelda

An unexpected visit
Alexander and Karolin, both Christians from Germany, recently visited the Haifa Home as part of a round-the-world trip on their bikes to raise funds for a charitable project assisting disadvantaged youths. Here, they met Zelda, who was born in Poland but had to flee to Russia during the Holocaust. Although Zelda endured many hardships and is now very old, she is still in good spirits and loves to talk to people. She even seems to draw energy from telling others about her life.

On the road for five months already, Alexander and Karolin said this was one of the most exciting stops on their journey.

“It’s been an honour to meet all the residents in this wonderful Home”, said Alexander. “It served as a reminder to us to keep telling their stories. The next generation will not have the chance to meet these precious people in person.”

ICEJ team in action
Thanks to our great team of Christian volunteers, the ICEJ is able to do so much for the residents at the Haifa Home.  Please support this compassionate outreach to Holocaust survivors by giving at: