Every day an estimated 40 Holocaust survivors die in Israel.
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is taking this upcoming Holocaust Remembrance Day not just as a day of remembrance but a day of action.
“It is not enough to remember what happened in the Holocaust, we need to act to make sure that those who survived are living with dignity,” IFCJ global vice president Yael Eckstein told The Jerusalem Post
And the IFCJ is acting by providing a wide range of life saving services to Israel’s most impoverished Holocaust survivors.
“Our biggest message is letting them know they are not alone,” Eckstein said.
As the number of Holocaust survivors in Israel rapidly declines, Eckstein urges Israelis and fellow Jews across the world to do their share to not just remember the Holocaust but act to honor the lives of the survivors.
Today, Israel has some 200,000 Holocaust survivors. One out of four lives in poverty.
The IFCJ is currently providing some 20,000 of the most destitute Israeli Holocaust survivors with food, emergency expenses, medicine and alleviation of loneliness with weekly or biweekly visits from the IFCJ’s volunteer program.
One of the beneficiaries of this aid is Sarah, a 87-year-old Holocaust survivor from Romania. A widow struggling to make ends meet, she expresses her gratitude toward the IFCJ: “The Fellowship was heaven- sent – I was all alone and did not know where to turn to for help. The Fellowship helped me purchase a radiator and an oven, while sending me food baskets each month which I appreciate more than I can possibly express.”
More than that, the IFCJ helped to alleviate the loneliness and isolation that typically comes with old age – with the encouragement of an IFCJ field representative, Sarah agreed to join a local community center for the elderly, where she enjoys a variety of activities, lectures, Bible classes and exercise. Most importantly, she now has the companionship of friends she sees daily.
AHEAD OF this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, Eckstein expresses the challenges of confronting this annual day of remembering: “Every year that passes is more difficult for me and it should be for everyone – because every year that passes we lose a significant number of these survivors.”
The IFCJ notes that more than 1,000 Holocaust survivors die every month in Israel.
Eckstein added: “We are looking at survivors not as elderly people but precious gems to whom we give hope and dignity in their final years.”
That hope, Eckstein explains, comes from the transformation of the role of Christians in the lives of those who endured the Holocaust: “In the Holocaust, the Jews were alone and even the American Jewish community didn’t do much or even ‘enough’ to help.”
“Today, the Christians are the biggest allies of Israel and the greatest supporters to these precious diamonds. Wherever you look, the strongest support of Israel and its people comes from Christians,” she said. “This is an especially potent message that inspires these survivors in a deep and profound way – not only are they no longer alone, but the Christian community is standing strong with them.”
Ninety-six percent of the financial support the IFCJ receives comes from Christians.
With dozens of other organizations working with Israel’s dwindling Holocaust-survivor population, IFCJ is different – unlike these organizations that largely work on a local level, the Fellowship works on a larger, more comprehensive scale by servicing these people through their 44 regional headquarters located throughout Israel.
IFCJ’s hotline is also open for elderly survivors to call any time for any needs that they have – this is the source of their operational strength.
“We create criteria, and anyone in Israel who is eligible for aid will receive help from the IFCJ. By doing that, we make sure the poorest and weakest members of society are able to get our aid and [help from] our volunteers no matter where they live,” Eckstein said.
She added that: “this framework works to raise social awareness because you are able to mobilize volunteers, go and visit and connect with these survivors and get to know and hear their stories.”
“It is our honor and privilege to help these special people in their final years,” said Eckstein.
PRIOR TO this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, Eckstein urges her fellow Israelis and Jews to not only remember but to act. “Our motto at IFCJ is: ‘We remember, we act.’ It’s a slogan that loses a lot of meaning when there’s no action – to remember isn’t an action.
“It always strikes me as a difficult thing to say ‘we succeeded in remembering the Holocaust.’ When one in four survivors in Israel needs food, heat and medicine, it begs the question about remembering – if we are remembering the Holocaust and we forget the survivors, how much do we really remember?” she added.
“It’s not enough to remember the victims that died – we also need to remember the survivors who are living among us and are living in poverty, because time is running out; in a few years there won’t be any of them left,” cautioned Eckstein.
IFCJ’s work spans across the globe to the former Soviet Union, where they are providing necessary and practical help to some 92,000 elderly Jews by providing food, medicine, homecare, heating and fuel, with a budget of about $13 million.
This article was written in cooperation with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.