With 60,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel living below the poverty line, social workers are unable to keep up with demand to care for this aging population. Meir Panim, Israel’s premiere charity organization, has been stepping in where government aid is not enough.
“Meir Panim’s Or Akiva branch in northern Israel is known by city officials as the place to turn for help when government staff and aid run short,” explained Goldie Sternbuch, Director of Overseas Relations for Meir Panim. “Branch manager Ilanit Hafuta goes way beyond the call of duty to help everyone in need.”
With that outstanding reputation, the social worker brought a lonely couple to the attention of Meir Panim. Both Holocaust survivors, 87-year-old Rivka from Poland and 91-year-old Jacob from the former USSR, were lacking basic necessities like food and were also living in squalor. Without children or family and suffering from physical disabilities, they rely on each other to navigate with difficulty through their day.
“As soon as Ilanit heard the story, she enlisted her team of volunteers to jump into action,” said Sternbuch. “They revamped the couple’s entire apartment. This was more than just for aesthetics. They had gas canisters directly next to their stove which could have exploded at any moment. Everything had to be redone for their safety as well as for their dignity.”
The help did not stop there. Meir Panim went above the call of duty to ensure that the couple would live out their final years in a respectful fashion. Meir Panim provided them with walkers and orthopedic mattresses. A safety bar was installed in their bathtub. They were also given essential appliances, including a new washing machine and refrigerator.
“Because it is so difficult for this couple to get to Meir Panim’s local restaurant-style soup kitchen, volunteers come three times a week and stock their new refrigerator with fresh food and pre-cooked meals,” Sternbuch continued. “These volunteers also provide much-needed company and check on the couple’s welfare.”
Now that this couple has come to the attention of Meir Panim, children are sent to their home to entertain and visit them during holidays. Older volunteers fill their prescriptions and deliver medications directly to them. This relieves some of the couple’s loneliness and isolation.
“There is a tremendous need to help Holocaust survivors and the welfare system does not have enough resources, personnel or time to handle every case,” explained Sternbuch. “Meir Panim staff, unlike social workers who work set hours, work all hours of the day and night in emergency situations. People know that they can count on us.”
Or Akiva social workers have recently informed Meir Panim of a large group of Holocaust survivors in need. “As long as we have the resources we will help with our whole hearts and souls,” said Sternbuch. “Meir Panim takes personal responsibility for everyone that comes to our door. We provide help in a holistic manner.”