Protecting Holocaust survivors is uniquely important. They represent survival and resilience — and most importantly, they are the remaining eyewitnesses to the horrors of the Holocaust. As eyewitnesses, they are vitally important in educating future generations about the lessons of the Holocaust and what happens when hate goes unchecked.
Some local survivors have health vulnerabilities — not just because of their age or medical conditions, but also due to the extreme malnutrition and physical torture they survived.
Phoenix Holocaust Association believes that one of our most important responsibilities is caring for the needs of our remaining survivors. Pre-pandemic, we focused on the social needs of survivors, harnessing their experiences to teach the next generation, and remembrance of those lost in the Holocaust.
How things have changed in the past 12 months.
Since last March, PHA pivoted our focus to how we could help local survivors manage the pandemic. When masks were shown as one of the best ways to prevent transmission but were in short supply, members of the association sprang into action. Soon we had many people pitching in. Susan Lane, the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, turned her seamstress skills to sewing cloth masks. Member Rhonda Greenberg donated fabric and elastic. We provided no-cost masks to all survivors and also sold masks to support our programming.
To help with the isolation we were all feeling, we started regular check-in calls. Board member Elaine Goldenthal ramped up a phone tree to regularly call survivors.
Our monthly Café Europa luncheons went on hiatus. By May, we were delivering Café Europa in a bag to the doorsteps of survivors. One month we even included a roll of toilet paper with each meal.
Then we tried to help those who were willing to take the technology plunge and get set up on Zoom so they could join in the new world of virtual programming. We now have several survivors who tell their stories virtually to classrooms around the state.
Last month when vaccines became available to those 75 and older, we checked in with survivors to see if they had appointments only to learn — not surprisingly — that online scheduling was daunting.
One survivor had secured an appointment at 3:45 a.m. at State Farm Stadium. The thought of a 90-something-year-old driving to an unfamiliar location in the middle of the night triggered me to email Arizona Rep. Alma Hernandez for help. Through her advocacy, a Zoom meeting was scheduled with a staffer in the governor’s office.
While his information was helpful, we voiced our concern that survivors — the youngest of whom is nearing 80 — would be unable to navigate the online appointment system.
The next day, I heard from Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. She and her staff would help any Holocaust survivor obtain an appointment for a vaccination.
PHA went to work calling all survivor members and gathering pertinent information. We included Kathy Rood, Jewish social services manager at Jewish Family & Children’s Service who works with many survivors. Together, the partnership of PHA, JFCS, and ADHS has scheduled more than 40
survivors for vaccines, plus appointments for non-survivor spouses and their caregivers. Numerous volunteers have given generously of their time to help with transportation to the State Farm Stadium.
As president of PHA, I am beyond grateful for the help provided our community of Holocaust survivors by Rep. Hernandez, Christ and her staff, Kathy Rood and JFCS, as well as our members who have heeded the call to help in many ways.
By collectively protecting the lives of Holocaust survivors, the entire community is enhanced. JN
Sheryl Bronkesh is the president of the Phoenix Holocaust Association.