NGO gives food to Survivors ahead of Yom Kippur

Group seeks to ensure Holocaust survivors have steady meals before fast; It’s a day to remember lost loved ones, says recipient.

BERTHA SPOREN, food deliveries 370 (photo credit: Danielle Ziri)
BERTHA SPOREN, food deliveries 370
(photo credit: Danielle Ziri)
The Association for Immediate Help for Holocaust Survivors started distributing food on Sunday to survivors around the country, to ensure they have steady meals before the Yom Kippur fast.
Tamara More, founder of the Herzliya-based organization, said the meaning of Yom Kippur is different for Holocaust survivors than for other Jews: “A lot of them don’t know on what date their loved ones died during the Holocaust, so they use Yom Kippur as a day of remembrance for their families. For them, it’s an even more difficult day.”
Out of the 200,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel, 25 percent live below the poverty line. Each year, the association brings food to the doorstep of people such as Bertha Sporen, who has been receiving help from the organization on a regular basis.
Sitting at the dinner table in her central Tel Aviv apartment, her blonde hair gathered into a neat bun, she explained that AIHHS helps her in various ways, from food to house maintenance and even once brought and installed an air conditioner in her home.
“When I first heard from them and they said they wanted to help, I was happy. I was happy someone remembered that I exist,” she said.
Sporen talked in detail about her experiences during World War II and shared pictures of her family, from Czernowitz in Bukovina, an area that has long been divided between Germany, Russia, Ukraine and Romania.
She lives by herself, with many cats who come and go and that she feeds and shelters.
She explained that back home, before the Holocaust, her family used to fast on Yom Kippur, which to them was the most important day of the year. Since the Holocaust, however, her habits changed: “I don’t believe [in God] anymore, because if there is a God, where was he when this happened to us? Where was he? Why did he let it happen?” To her, it is a sad day, when she remembers her grandparents and people she knew who were killed in the Holocaust.
Susan Rotem, who has been volunteering at AIHHS for two-and-a-half years, said she is concerned with the survivors’ basic needs.
She expressed anger with the government’s handling of survivors, “but it doesn’t help to be angry, it only helps to do something about it.”
Rotem participated in the Yom Kippur distribution on Sunday and explained that when going to people’s house with a food package, it is important not to focus on it: “We try to make it more like a social visit. We come in, sit down and talk.
Sometimes they refuse the food so we make up excuses to leave it there. Some of them are ashamed that they got to this situation, but we’re the ones who should be ashamed. In the Jewish state they should be at the top of the priority list.”
“A lot of them don’t ask for help, because they don’t want to bother anyone,” More said. She added that for most of them, asking for help is humiliating: “It’s not in their mentality to ask, and when I see someone insisting to be given food or making a scene, I usually know they are not Holocaust survivors,” she added. In her experience, many people have tried to get the benefits the organization provides by pretending to be survivors, something the organization does its best to identify and prevent.
More has been helping survivors for more than a decade, even before founding the AIHHS. Managing it has taken a toll on her life as she battles a rare disease that is causing her many health issues: “It’s the job of a government, not of an individual,” she said, “but I keep doing it only because if I don’t, no one will.”
Holocaust survivors often feel they have been failed by the system, and tend not to trust people who approach them, she said. “They are much more open to us coming in when we explain to them that there is no bureaucracy, no paperwork, we just want to help.”
In addition to the food distribution, the organization is providing Holocaust survivors with an emergency number to call on Yom Kippur in case they need help or just someone to talk to. Volunteers who live within walking distance will show up to help out.
AIHHS, composed of 300 volunteers, distributed 127 food packages on Sunday and is continuing the initiative through Tuesday afternoon in cities all over the country including in Netanya, Haifa, Safed, Holon and Rehovot.