In Israel, the group that perhaps has it hardest of all is the poor, elderly immigrant population. These elderly came to Israel late in life and struggle day by day to make ends meet in a society that is alien to them. Living thousands of miles from the culture that they understand, unable to communicate with those around them, and often physically or emotionally distant from family, these needy elderly are also the most isolated of all.
Fellowship-supported Yad LaKashish (which means “lifeline for the elderly”) provides an opportunity for these needy elderly to work and retain their dignity during their final years. This craft workshop gives them a place to go each day to work and produce beautiful crafts. Each person is paid a small stipend, thus enabling them to meet their ongoing expenses.
Most of the workers are living off meager government assistance, so the hot lunches, monthly stipends, and free dental insurance offered through this program help to make their lives more comfortable. In addition, working there allows them to stay physically and mentally active, interact with other seniors (many who are immigrants with little or no ability to speak Hebrew), and most importantly, maintain their dignity and a sense of usefulness to society.
"This Place Saves Me"
Dovid is a survivor in every sense of the word. He was born in 1920 in Czestochowa, Poland, a town on the German border. World War II broke out two weeks before Rosh Hashanah 1940. “The Nazis entered immediately, and my family – which consisted of my parents, myself, and four sisters – was put into the ghetto. The ghetto was liquidated in 1942 and we were sent to different concentration camps; I was sent to Treblinka. Besides me, only one sister survived. Of the 49 members of my extended family, only 10 survived.
“In Treblinka, I would see SS officers shoot and kill people for the mere fun of it,” Dovid recalls. “I can't count the numbers of times I've asked myself how I was able to survive. I came to the conclusion that it was because of my faith. I kept repeating a verse from Psalms – 'I will not die, but I will live.' This gave me the push to remain alive for the sake of my family. I had no idea that my family was dead."
After the war ended and Treblinka was liberated, Dovid returned to Poland. "I'll never forget the day – May 8, 1945. I went back to Poland because someone told me that my sister had survived the war and had returned to our hometown where the Jewish community was trying to put itself back together.
Dovid eventually moved to northern Poland, where he met and married a Russian woman. Shortly after their daughter was born, Dovid received an affidavit from relatives in America which would have allowed him to go to the U.S. The state of Israel was established six weeks later. "I said to myself, 'There's a Jewish country and I'm going to go to another Diaspora?’ So we went to Israel in August 1949."
Dovid had learned carpentry as a teenager in a professional school. It was carpentry that kept him alive in Treblinka. He decided to bring machines from Germany and set up a carpentry shop. Unfortunately, he had to close the shop in 1956. "The taxes in Israel were unbearable; I had plenty of work and no money."
He went to the Ministry of Education looking for a job as a teacher, even though he had no credentials. However, it turned out that the head of the school he attended in Poland had been a friend of the ministry supervisor. He got a job teaching carpentry and illustration from 1956-1985.
When Dovid retired, he and his wife were able to make do with their pensions. "When my wife died five years ago, everything changed. There was no longer enough money to pay the bills. Worse than that; I didn't know what to do with myself. I went to lectures, but nothing sank in. All I could do was think about my wife.”
A friend told Dovid about Fellowship-supported Yad LaKashish, where he has been working ever since. During the course of this interview, Russian immigrants who don't speak Hebrew keep coming up to Dovid for help with their work. "See?" says Dovid, "I'm needed here." Before parting, Dovid smiles, "Despite it all I've had a wonderful life. I got my revenge on the Nazis. I'm the head of a family with 80 members!"
Dovid says, "This place saves me. I don't know what I would do without it. I'm doing creative work and it helps me make ends meet. The person who started this organization, and all those who donate to it, are assured of a place in the world to come. All of us here are between 60-93 years old. We take our work seriously. Thank you for letting us spend our last years living in dignity."