Rise Stillman, a Holocaust survivor, receives her second COVID-19 vaccine from Dr. Cara Christ, director of Arizona Department of Health Services.

On Feb. 12, Sheryl Bronkesh, president of the Phoenix Holocaust Association, received her second COVID-19 vaccine alongside Rise Stillman and Frieda Allweiss, both Holocaust survivors. Initially, the three were scheduled to be vaccinated Monday, but their appointments were moved up by the Arizona Department of Health Services so the event could be broadcast live. Dr. Cara Christ, ADHS director, was on hand to vaccinate all three.

In January, Bronkesh worked with Rep. Alma Hernandez (LD-3), Kathy Rood, program manager for Jewish social services at Jewish Family & Children’s Service and Christ to assist Holocaust survivors and their spouses who were having troubles navigating the state’s website to book vaccine appointments. More than 40 survivors and their spouses have been vaccinated since last month.

“We do consider everybody over the age of 75 important, but we also know that these individuals are survivors of a very tragic situation,” Christ said. “We wanted to make sure that they were able to continue to survive in the face of another tragic situation.”

When Bronkesh let ADHS know she was being asked by multiple members of the press to allow survivors’ vaccinations to be filmed, the department facilitated the three appointments and held a press conference at which Christ, Bronkesh and the two survivors could speak and answer questions.

“Quite frankly, I’ve done a lot of speaking in my day but I have never faced that many cameras,” Bronkesh said. “Fortunately, I don’t have a fear of public speaking, but there were a lot of cameras.” Once Christ and Bronkesh spoke, Christ vaccinated the survivors and Bronkesh. While they waited 15 minutes to ensure there were no bad reactions, the survivors answered questions.

Since news broke of her work, Bronkesh has received several calls from people in other states looking to do the same thing for survivors. She is grateful for all the help she received, especially from Rood who is someone many survivors know and trust which makes the process easier.

“Kathy helped when I got overwhelmed and has been helping tremendously,” Bronkesh said of the more than 70 appointments they’ve made. “This has been a monumental amount of work.” JN