No longer alone: Tackling loneliness among Holocaust survivors

A nation-wide effort to ease loneliness among Holocaust survivors.

MATAV CEO Lior Shtrassberg (standing) meets Holocaust survivors at one of the organization's branches (photo credit: ALONI MOR)
MATAV CEO Lior Shtrassberg (standing) meets Holocaust survivors at one of the organization's branches
(photo credit: ALONI MOR)
Europe’s concentration and labor camps began to be liberated in the summer of 1944, as Soviet troops swept westward across what used to be Nazi-occupied Poland.
For those who survived, whether rescued from camps or emerging from hiding, picking up the strands of their lives from the ruins would take Herculean inner strength and resolve.
Many left the camps and their places of refuge alone, stripped not only of their possessions and their dignity, but also entire families. If those of them who came first to Palestine and then to Israel could have seen more than 70 years into the future, they could be forgiven for thinking they would never feel alone again.
The Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority in the Finance Ministry, in cooperation with JDC-Israel-Eshel and the MATAV Association, which has been in existence for 60 years and provides a wide range of services for more than 30,000 elderly citizens, are embarking on a largescale nationwide initiative to deal with the phenomenon of loneliness among Holocaust survivors.
Israel’s Holocaust survivor population continues to shrink and a significant proportion of them suffer from economic hardship. In addition, a recent Brookdale Institute study found that 40% of survivors reported feeling lonely. MATAV CEO Lior Strassberg stressed the importance of visiting survivors in their homes and how doing so helps make them feel part of the community.
“Loneliness has some basic side effects – quality of life, perception of happiness and physical manifestations – and that is significant. Even if their families are in contact [with elderly Holocaust survivors] and come to visit them once or twice a week for a few hours at a time, they are often still spending most of the day on their own.”
MATAV is well placed to tackle this new project on behalf of lonely Holocaust survivors, as it already has existing programs in place to help the elderly, the sick and the disabled, among others. Its V’Hadarta (Dignity in Old Age) project, an initiative of the Social Equality Ministry and managed by MATAV in cooperation with the Social Equality Ministry, pairs lonely elderly people with young men and women performing their national service, who arrive at their homes or at community centers on a fixed day and time and accompany them to perform day-to-day tasks, such as going to the bank or post office. MATAV’s Haverim L’et Zikna (Friends in Old Age) project enables elderly people who have pets and are having difficulty looking after them, to receive help in taking care of their beloved animals.
The pairing of an appropriate volunteer with a survivor is crucial to the success of the project and only works with careful planning and effort. “There is an interview process to ensure that there is a good match between the volunteer and the Holocaust survivor,” said Strassberg.
“We try and match people who have similar interests and compatible personalities if we can, because it is important to remember that this is a project between people.” Strassberg also highlighted the project’s potential for reflected benefit – from the volunteer to the survivor and back again. “Being involved with this can fill one’s heart, give enormous satisfaction and a feeling of meaning – everyone is looking for meaning. It can be life-changing.”
“We see this project as a step that can solve one of the most complex problems that exist among homeless Holocaust survivors and that is the problem of loneliness,” said Ofra Ross, director of the Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority. “We will continue to work to benefit Holocaust survivors and to provide them with the highest quality and most effective response to their physical and mental needs,” she added.
In the last few years, the plight of the elderly in general and Holocaust survivors, in particular, has received greater attention, in terms of awareness and budgetary allowance than was previously the case. There has been a discussion as to the limits of the state’s responsibilities and what role citizens and organizations can play in filling any shortfall. With this, the No Longer Alone program, a combination of state and nongovernmental actors has stepped in to try and protect some of society’s most vulnerable members.
The project has drafted around 500 volunteers to date, with a goal to reach 5,000 by its end. “It has been rolled out across the country – from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat – and is one of the reasons that MATAV, because of its extensive branches network is a natural fit to carry this out,” said Strassberg.

For more information or if you are interested in volunteering, contact: 077-899-4140
This piece was written in cooperation with the MATAV Association.