What I learned From Shoshana Ovitz

Another attitude always permeated the psyche of these people as well. They all remembered that it is incredibly important to give to others who were not as lucky as they were.

By ELI BEER
August 17, 2019 19:18
3 minute read.
PEOPLE VISIT the Hall of Names at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in May.

PEOPLE VISIT the Hall of Names at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in May. . (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)

Two weeks ago, Shoshana Ovitz, a 104-year-old Holocaust survivor, celebrated her birthday by having all of her descendants gather at the Western Wall. More than 400 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered in the Old City of Jerusalem and took a photo that made waves around the Jewish world.

This one woman, who witnessed her mother murdered by the Nazis, survived the war and built worlds of generations. The not-so-simple act of survival during the war allowed her to declare her own victory over Hitler and the Nazis by laying the foundation to a large family. She married a man whose wife and children were murdered, and the two of them spent their days doing the Jewish thing, not focusing on the past but focusing on the future and looking at what they could rebuild.

This story and the accompanying photo inspired me on so many levels. When I think about it I realize that this is the Jewish story. I meet so many people from around the world who all have similar stories. Two weeks ago I met with a group of Syrian and Iraqi Jews who told me the stories of how they escaped their home countries with nothing and had to rebuild their lives. For thousands of years, Jews had to continuously relocate with little or nothing. When I think about the people I’ve met who had to leave everything, I realize that they all shared a similar attitude. They all looked forward and not backward. They all focused on rebuilding their lives, rebuilding their families, building new communities and building new businesses.

Another attitude always permeated the psyche of these people as well. They all remembered that it is incredibly important to give to others who were not as lucky as they were.

I just spent a weekend in the community of Deal, New Jersey, with the Syrian community there. It is a community that is not very well-known, but the whole community is made up of incredibly charitable people. This is a community that rebuilt itself and is now one of the most philanthropically minded communities that I have come across. They give a lot of themselves to support their own community and they give to support the State of Israel. To me, they represent the highest values of the Jewish people.

Every time a volunteer of United Hatzalah helps a person, which is something that happens hundreds of times a day, I ask myself: How many of these people who are saved will now get to have a 104th birthday and celebrate it with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren just like Shoshana Ovitz did?

Shoshana showed us in an incredibly strong visual manner that the Mishnaic idiom of “Whoever saves a single life it is as if they saved an entire world” is not just a statement made 1,700 years ago, but a statement that permeates what it means to be Jewish throughout the ages.

Some 74 years ago this woman was saved, and now, because of her, there are more than 400 people standing in Israel who would not be alive had she not survived. Those 400 people are her legacy and they will transfer this important message to future generations. The effects that they will have on the world will change it dramatically. This is what the Mishna meant and this is why I started United Hatzalah.

The writer is the father of five children, a social entrepreneur and president and founder of United Hatzalah of Israel, an independent, non-profit, fully volunteer EMS organization that provides fast and free emergency first response throughout Israel.


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