Philip Bendheim

On This Holocaust Remembrance Day, One Cannot, Should not, Forget about the Survivors

A Bar Mitzva celebration at the Western Wall organized by Yad Sarah for a Holocaust survivor who never had one - Courtesy of Yad Sarah.
A Bar Mitzva celebration at the Western Wall organized by Yad Sarah for a Holocaust survivor who never had one - Courtesy of Yad Sarah.

The Hamas attacks of Oct. 7, which murdered more than 1,200 people in southern Israel, were the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. For many, the nightmare continues. more than 200 soldiers have fallen in Gaza, and at least 200,000 Israelis were displaced from their homes near Israel’s southern and northern borders. Some of those homes were destroyed on Oct. 7, many others damaged by rockets since then, and all are located in communities at high-risk of attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorists devoted to destroying Israel.

For 97-year-old Ayisa Zaguri, who survived anti-Jewish persecution in a Nazi-aligned area of Morocco during World War II, and other Holocaust survivors, this is not the first time they have lost homes or suffered displacement or the threat of displacement due to violence and antisemitism. Zaguri, who is bedridden, has been staying for three months at a fully-accessible hotel in Jerusalem run by Yad Sarah after rocket barrages forced her from her home in Kiryat Shmona, where she has lived since immigrating to Israel.

It is not clear when Zaguri, or any other evacuees, will be able to go home.

As we approach International Holocaust Remembrance Day this Saturday, Zaguri is just one of about 300,000 aging Holocaust survivors, about half of them living in Israel, who are all too familiar with the type of existential threat that we are once again seeing today. Even though the world said “Never again,” we are once again seeing many voices around the world attempt to justify the murder and displacement of Jews amid soaring levels of hate and antisemitism.

That is why, more than ever, we need to embrace and support those survivors. Serving these survivors is not easy, and many of them need much more—and quickly. About one-third of Holocaust survivors in Israel live in poverty, an embarrassing shame, especially in the Jewish state. At Yad Sarah, we serve over 35,000 of these survivors, providing them with medical equipment, an emergency hotline, free legal advice, caregiver support, and now, in the midst of war, temporary housing.

One of the most important services we offer is our emergency call center. This service provides an emergency phone number that elderly or people with disabilities can call for help. In addition, a special device allows subscribers to call for help with the push of a single button, and wearable devices will automatically call the center if they detect their user has fallen. These services not only save lives, but allow elderly people to live at home longer, including on their own, knowing help is just a phone call away.

Our home hospitalization is another vital program for many elderly people, including Holocaust survivors. For little or no cost, anyone in need can borrow equipment from Yad Sarah like hospital-style beds, shower chairs, lifts, respiratory devices and many other items. This allows them to leave hospitals, and to recover from illness, medical procedures or live out their last days at home, surrounded by the comfort of friends and family members. At the same time, patients and their families can have peace of mind that medical and physical needs are being met.

We also understand that survivors, especially as they grow older, and their families, have mental health and emotional needs. In order to help meet these, our Yad LeTomech program provides counseling and support to those who are taking care of elderly or sick family members. Many of those taking care of their elderly parents or grandparents are not only coping with the challenges and stress of being caregivers, but they are also themselves second- or third-generation survivors who carry trauma with them. Our Yad Riva free legal services program also provides essential support that brings peace of mind not only to elderly survivors but to their families, helping with issues ranging from crafting wills to court matters.

Our Documenting Life Stories program is another unique way we help survivors and their families, as well as inspire future generations. Elderly people are paired with volunteer writers who help them turn their life story, or parts of it, into a book. While anyone can turn to this program for help documenting their life story, it is especially meaningful and important for Holocaust survivors.  Storytelling can be a form of healing, as well as an effective tool to raise awareness and empower younger generations to stay strong and find meaning during even the most difficult and dark times.

With some Holocaust survivors personally experiencing threats to their lives once again, simply for being Jewish, for being Israeli, it is especially important that on this Holocaust Remembrance Day, we do all we can to help them, lift them up, and enshrine their legacies.

About the Author
Philip Bendheim is a dedicated second-generation volunteer in the Yad Sarah family. He is a director of Yad Sarah's International Board of Overseers and USA Friends of Yad Sarah