Adopt-A-Safta and WeWork: Creating Community for Holocaust Survivors

It has been over 70 years since the Holocaust ended, but for many, the wounds are still fresh. Some Survivors have been alone for decades — and now that they are in the twilight of their lives, they are lonelier than ever, unable to get out and see whatever friends or family still remain. Loneliness is a disease that can affect anyone, but I know that all societies should be judged on how well they treat their elderly. That is why we created the Adopt-A-Safta organization. It is in recognition of the joy we have brought to so many elderly Holocaust Survivors, that we were given the WeWork Community Giver award, an honor that I consider a tremendous blessing.

Adopt-A-Safta is a nonprofit initiative based on the Big Brother/Sister model, pairing young adults living in Israel with lonely Holocaust Survivors. Volunteers “adopt” a lonely safta (grandmother) or saba (grandfather) in need of love, attention, and connection, providing them with as much comfort as possible during their remaining years. We received the Community Giver award for helping elderly Survivors combat loneliness — an issue that is dear to my heart, as I am the proud grandson of Survivors, Kathe and David Friedman.

Unfortunately, time is not on our side; an average of 36 Holocaust Survivors die in Israel each day, and we do not reach as many of them as we need to. Receiving the WeWork Creator Award’s funding has afforded us the opportunity to grow the program in every way possible — including our ability to recruit, vet, train, match, and maintain an ongoing connection with more volunteers. The funding that came with the award has enabled us to expand geographically as well. We recently launched matching volunteers beyond Tel Aviv/Gush Dan, into Jerusalem and Haifa.

In addition, we are now able to provide increased training for the volunteers, which helps ensure a more sustainable and committed match. Our goal is to train as many volunteers as possible, pairing the young adults seeking to make meaningful contributions with the Holocaust Survivors in need of consistent connection. Our incredible community of young adults from Israel and abroad serves as an invaluable resource. This cohort embodies the values of social good, volunteerism, tzedakah, and activism. By combining these two populations, we create a beautiful social infrastructure that provides a network of support, friendship, inter-generational communication and commitment.

The Community Giver award recognizes “an individual or collective taking initiative/making a difference in their local community,” something that we do every day — not just by helping the elderly, but also by providing a framework for our volunteers. In fact, much of the value of our program is in the transmission of Holocaust memory to a young Jewish generation that for the most part has had very little personal connection to their history. In addition, the majority of our volunteers are recent immigrants to Israel. The program also addresses the loneliness that these volunteers often experience being away from their family and friends of their birth countries.

We have seen how even mundane everyday interactions can lead to beautiful relationships. One example that comes to mind is a safta who is helping her “granddaughter” learn Hebrew. A saba is teaching his “grandson” how to cook. We have many volunteers who are teaching their new saftas and sabas how to use email and video chat. These relationships are mutually beneficial, and we have seen how this initiative fosters and ultimately benefits both the Holocaust Survivors and our young volunteers.

Indeed, winning the Creator Award has helped us not only reach more Holocaust Survivors — but more volunteers, as well. The award has brought a tremendous uptick in awareness, evidenced by the fact that the number of applicants has greatly increased. We are incredibly grateful to WeWork for their help in enabling Adopt-A-Safta to get to this point; our job now is to continue making matches while securing additional funding in order to ensure that we reach as many members of this holy generation, the Survivors who are still with us. WeWork is well-known for its sharing space, but, before the Creator Awards, I am not sure how many people knew about the impact WeWork has on the social sector. For Adopt-A-Safta to have received such a prestigious award means that more people are learning about our program. We would not be where we are today without the support of WeWork, and we thank them for helping us help Holocaust Survivors here in Israel.

Our experience with Adopt-A–Safta, and winning the award, is a lesson that I think all of us who are involved in social service can learn from. When we first started Adopt-A-Safta, we thought the idea of pairing young adult volunteers with lonely Holocaust Survivors would be simple. But the reality was that there were many more challenges than we had anticipated. If there is one piece of advice that I could offer, it is to never give up when you see a need. You should always find a way to address how to throw light into the darkness and make sure that you see things through if you want to make a real sustainable impact. There are over 136,000 Holocaust Survivors living in Israel today. We want to help all of them — yesterday. But making the matches takes time and energy and tremendous manpower. We do our best every day to increase the number of meaningful matches to ensure we are living up to our mission.

Do you want to get involved? www.AdoptASafta.com

Apply for a Creator Award today (deadline is May 21!)

RSVP for the Creator Jerusalem event on June 20.

Jay M. Shultz moved from NYC to Tel Aviv in 2006, is President of the Am Yisrael Foundation (www.AmYisrael.com), founder of the Adopt-A-Safta initiative, and a proud recipient of the 2017 WeWork Creator Award.

In this unique partnership between the Times of Israel and WeWork’s Creator Awards, we invite you to meet innovators from across the country and learn more about their stories and how they are making the world a better place.

About the Author
Jay M. Shultz moved from NYC to Tel Aviv in 2006, is President of the Am Yisrael Foundation (www.AmYisrael.com), founder of the Adopt-A-Safta initiative, and a proud recipient of the 2017 WeWork Creator Award.
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