Choosing Tomorrow Forever

A new generation of friends for Holocaust survivors

ANABELLE YAAKOV, 26, visits with Malka Liberman, 92, in her home in Beersheba. (photo credit: Courtesy)
ANABELLE YAAKOV, 26, visits with Malka Liberman, 92, in her home in Beersheba.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
At first glance, Anabelle Yaakov, 26, and Malka Liberman, 92, make an unlikely pair. Anabelle is a third-year student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Malka is a Holocaust survivor, a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother.
Yet despite an age difference of 66 years, Anabelle and Malka, both Beersheba residents, are close friends. They met through the Jewish Agency’s “Choosing Tomorrow Forever” initiative that matches college-age students with Holocaust survivors. Its aim is to lessen survivors’ feelings of loneliness, help them obtain benefits, and increase their social involvement in the community. 
“We operate student programs whose purpose is to encourage the students to take social responsibility, create social initiatives, and to strengthen the community,” explains Yamit Azoulay-Yareach, director of the Agency’s Young Adult Department.
“Within this framework we established this program, which works with Holocaust survivors in various areas. We learned that there are several challenges. One is the challenge of addressing their great loneliness. A second is helping them clarify their legal rights as Holocaust survivors. In addition, the survivors do not have enough of a connection to the community as a whole.”
There are approximately 215,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel, according to the Israel Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel. Many of the survivors, most of whom are over 70, suffer from medical, physical or psychological problems that are a direct result of their suffering during the Holocaust.
In response, Jewish communities around the world are now supporting Choosing Tomorrow Forever through various philanthropic foundations, such as UJA Federation of New York and a range of business and charitable organizations in Israel and abroad.
The Jewish Agency currently operates three groups for Holocaust survivors – two in Beersheba and one in Ashdod. Thirty-eight students are paired with an equal number of survivors for a two-year period. On a communal level, says Azoulay-Yareach, the initiative reaches hundreds of Holocaust survivors each year. “We are investing both in the students and on behalf of the survivors,” she says.
Azoulay-Yareach reports that students help Holocaust survivors in both tangible and some less-than tangible ways. One student was surprised to learn that the elderly survivor he visited rarely left his apartment.
Upon investigating, the student discovered that the man was simply afraid of falling down the steps, which were rickety and unsafe.
 In order to remedy the situation, a group of students repaired the railing on the staircase, enabling the resident to leave his home instead of remaining locked in his apartment all day.
Azoulay-Yareach adds that planning and creating joint programs with group participation, such as cooking classes with students and survivors, helps participants feel more valued. “The survivors feel that they have value and self-worth. They enjoy a communal experience because they teach cooking and then share a meal together with the students,” she says.
Students who sign up for the program receive extensive instruction that includes psychosocial training, learning how to deal with difficulties and crises, and understanding the rights of Holocaust survivors in Israel.
They learn about the bureaucratic mechanisms and processes involved in getting approval for survivors’ rights, the relevant forms, types of payments and grants, and assisting organizations. They also receive group training in the field of social entrepreneurship.
Students who take part in the Choosing Tomorrow Forever program receive a 10,000-shekel scholarship, and are encouraged to remain active in community work after they complete their studies. Azoulay-Yareach says that participants have experienced very positive feelings.
“We have had students who continued to accompany and help the survivors after they have completed the program. They did not want to separate from them,” she says.
Anabelle Yaakov, who is studying brain science at Ben-Gurion University, reports similar positive feelings. Annabelle, whose paternal grandparents survived the Holocaust, meets with Malka Liberman for two hours each week. “We sit and talk, update each other, give each other advice, and swap stories. Malka loves to cook and bake, so we do it together.”
Annabelle, who is in her second year with the program, explains that students are responsible for designing new initiatives. Last year, they created a natural health products workshop, and prepared skin creams and ointments together with the survivors.
In addition, they organized an art exhibit that displayed artwork created by Holocaust survivors. This year, they plan on organizing a “Zikaron BaSalon” Holocaust discussion event, perhaps in Malka’s apartment. Annabelle says her friendship with Malka is mutually beneficial.
 “I have gained a friend. She helps me. I come to her with my daily problems, and she always gives me the best advice.”  
Malka was born in Transylvania in 1926 is now 92. In 1944, she and her family were deported to Auschwitz. Her parents, grandparents and younger brother were murdered. Only she and her sister survived.
In 1947, Malka set sail for Israel with her husband, only to be interned by the British for an additional two years on the island of Cyprus.
They finally arrived in Israel in February 1949. At first, they lived in a refugee absorption camp in Binyamina, before moving to Beersheba in 1957. Malka’s husband, Abraham, was an engineer. He died in 1980. Together, they had three sons, one of whom died while serving in the army. Her two surviving sons now live in Tel Aviv and Beersheba, and today, Malka has five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Malka attends events at the local Amcha club, which provides social support services for Holocaust survivors, where she tells her story to groups of soldiers. Yet, says, Anabelle, “She waits for the day and hour that I arrive.” Anabelle’s weekly visits with Malka provide valuable contact and conversation that Malka cherishes.
“We didn’t know how many students would be interested in this project,” when the program began four years ago, says Yamit Azoulay-Yareach. The response, however, has been outstanding. This year they received 230 applications, far more than they could accept. Ultimately, she says, they hope to expand the Choosing Tomorrow Forever program throughout the country.
“The fact that the program combines a communal perspective, together with entrepreneurship and working with individuals, and the fact that both the students and the survivors are the target audience, makes the program unique,” explains Yamit Azoulay-Yareach.
Anabelle is equally enthusiastic. “I have enjoyed this program and have benefited greatly from it,” she says. “I highly recommend it, not just for the sake of helping a Holocaust survivor, but for gaining a real friend – someone with life experience.” 

This article was written in cooperation with the Jewish Agency.