Yom Hashoah Ve’Hagvura comes around once a year, twice if you include the International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January. During the week leading up to each of these days a lot of attention is paid to the aging population of Holocaust survivors both in Israel and abroad. But what happens the rest of the year?
A number of years ago, United Hatzalah initiated a project called Ten Kavod (Hebrew for Giving Respect or Honor) in which trained EMS volunteers pay weekly visits to many elderly people across Israel, of whom quite a large percentage are holocaust survivors. A large number of these elderly people live by themselves and have very few social outlets. The visits provide them with in-home medical checkups as well as a companion to talk to.
Esther Hotzlman is an 84-year-old widow who lives with one of her children in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem. She immigrated to Israel at the age of 13 after surviving the holocaust. Esther originally hails from Greece and has had a momentous life in Israel. She served in the IDF shortly after the state was established, raised three children and numerous grandchildren, and “served her country honorably and well” as she said in her own words.
While in second grade and living in Greece, Esther suffered under the German occupation and watched as the Nazis rounded up all of the Jews in Salonika and the surrounding area and sent them off to the concentration and death camps of Germany. Esther’s family traveled between villages and stayed ahead of the Nazis. Whenever they heard that the Germans were coming to the town they were living in they picked up and moved before the Germans were able to arrive.
Eventually, the family got hold of false papers stating that they were Christians. Thus they were able to leave Greece and eventually head to Israel after the war ended. Today, Esther is dealing with numerous medical issues due to her age. One of the bright spots in her life are the weekly visits that she receives from Yehuda Amitai, a volunteer with the Ten Kavod project. As part of the project, Amitai pays weekly house calls to Esther in order to check up on her medical status, check her vitals, and offer her some companionship.
Amitai is one of more than 200 volunteers countrywide who is part of the project that helps elderly and often isolated people, many of whom are holocaust survivors, monitor their health. Volunteers monitor pulse, heart rate, blood pressure, sugar levels and other vital signs, and if there is a drastic change the volunteers are instructed to relay that information to the patient’s family physician.
For Amitai, like many of the Ten Kavod volunteers, the visits have created bonds of friendship with the patients. In many cases, the volunteer and the patient treat each other as family. The volunteers worry about the patients and help them in ways that go beyond the requirements of their volunteering.
“For me, it is a huge honor to be able to meet with Esther each week,” Amitai said. “Hearing her story, learning from her and helping her, lead me to believe that I get more from the visits than she does. Esther is a terrific person who is full of life. I learn so much from her and from the experiences that she shares with me. I am overjoyed each time I go to her home and help her with whatever I can. Helping people like Esther, who underwent the worst tragedy that humanity has ever known and who were responsible for founding and building this country, is the least I can do. We all need to support and assist these heroes, in whatever way we can. By doing so, we not only help them, we help ourselves far more.”