Our precious elderly holocaust survivors have reached their golden years. Some are surrounded by family with constant reminders of the place they have created for themselves in the world. Others are not so fortunate. Over 500 are living in nursing homes, no longer in charge of their lives. They have become a number, the patient in Room 346, and are no longer able to feel themselves to be individuals. How to recapture the feeling of self-identity? The Ezer Mizion program entitled One Wish was created to help fill that need. A trained staff member develops a relationship with each one, visiting regularly. When she feels she knows them well, their likes and dislikes, their hopes and dreams, she discusses their one wish and, together with many Ezer Mizion departments, will attempt to fulfill it. One resident’s deepest wish was spending time with a disabled spouse still living at home. The couple who were married over 60 years are now are forced to live separately due to the disabilities of both. Attending a concert for the music lover; a boat ride for the adventurous—these are just some of the wishes chosen.
The wishes are as varied as the personalities of those that are making them. A survivor unable to leave the confines of the home loves the emotional camaraderie of a communal sing. And to sing the songs of her childhood in Russian and Yiddish would be the icing on the cake. The glow on her face as all her friends sang, danced, and enjoyed the traditional refreshments from the alte heim (childhood home) was priceless. (Thank you to the Ezer Mizion Kitchen for the excellent blintzes.)
Isabella has been “everywhere”. She knows the standard scenic sites like the palm of her hand and even has organized photo albums of all her trips. Flowers are one of her loves and she yearned to see the orchids in bloom. And so the phones were buzzing until one call said, “Yes! We have orchids and yes, they are in bloom!” Isabella got her wish! Isabella was so touched by how seriously we took her wish.
Ten elderly gentlemen spoke of the beach: to experience once again the roaring power of the ocean waves, the warmth of the sun, the smell of the sea. They and their escorts were given a dream day at the seashore. The daring ones among them even entered the water in their wheelchairs, cheered on by their less courageous peers.
Emotional and cognitive responses were elicited in even those unable to articulate their desires. A group of senior animal-lover survivors in too poor physical condition to leave the premises were treated to a dog show. The Ezer Mizion Dog Therapy ‘crew’ was brought in and relatives were invited to share the experience. The guests were delighted to see their relatives, who rarely reacted to their environment, reach out to stroke the puppies, feed them and laugh and clap as they performed their tricks.
Slichos (Penitential prayers to usher in the Days of Awe) was no longer a possibility for one survivor who had attended shul (synagogue) three times a day in his younger days. How he missed it! The davening (prayers), the atmosphere of friendship. His happiness knew no bounds when, shortly before Rosh Hashona (Jewish New Year), he was once again brought to hear slichos . The familiar words, the heartfelt tune, so many people who had known him ‘when’ coming to greet him…according to his daughter, it gave him renewed energy, a sense of purpose, an image of himself as an individual.
The relationships with the staff member will continue. They will reminisce about the trip, smile over the pictures, talk about the younger years when these activities were a significant part of his life, all the while enhancing his self-image of being so much more than a room number.
Ezer Mizion provides services to over 660,000 of Israel’s population annually in addition to its Bone Marrow Registry which saves the lives of cancer patients the world over.