Saving Lives and Providing Hope
March 17, 2015
I grew up in snowy Chicago, where despite the winter’s freezing temperatures, there were certain things we could count on. We knew that we could take warm showers because we had hot water, and we knew that when we turned on the heat it would work. And just like many of my Canadian friends, we owned snow suits, blankets, and back-up heaters, and were prepared for blizzards, snow days, and record-breaking cold. My family never worried about getting sick from the cold or suffering due to the weather.
But it’s different in Israel.
Although it doesn’t get as cold in Israel as it does in some parts of North America, during the winter months, we get our fair share of freezing days, which are often coupled with snow and sleet. The wind gets so strong that you can hear it howl as it whips past your windows and many people here in Israel are not prepared for the frigid winter months.
I’ve studied the statistics that show that one in five elderly in Israel don’t have heat in their homes, and a quarter of elderly in Israel who do have a heating unit can’t turn it on without giving up another basic necessity like food or medicine. I am familiar with the heartbreaking reality that one in four Holocaust survivors in Israel live below the poverty line.
The statistics are troubling, but they’re just numbers. In order to truly feel the human suffering behind these statistics, you must look at the faces, hear the stories, and see the tears of the tens of thousands of elderly in the Holy Land who are struggling to live comfortably and with dignity on a daily basis. And in the winter months, those struggles quickly transform into a fight for survival.
Since the beginning of winter, The Fellowship’s Jerusalem office has received thousands of pleas for help from elderly who have no way to stay warm. Based on this tremendous need, my father Rabbi Eckstein instructed our team to come up with a holistic program to meet the heating requests of Israel’s elderly, and within two months, praise God, over 8,500 elderly received the help they so desperately prayed for.
Annabel, a poor, elderly Holocaust survivor who lives in Jerusalem without any heat, was brought to tears when I brought her a blanket during a snowstorm that closed the streets and emptied supermarket shelves. I explained to her that it was Christians and Jews around the world who sent her this gift, and she had to sit down to process the amazing news. “The last time I received a new blanket was from my sister over 25 years ago,” she told me, while kissing my hand. “Now it is The Fellowship who has come in to help me, like extended family.”
When I walked into 92-year-old Svetlana’s house in northern Israel and felt her freezing hands, I knew that the heater I brought for her would probably save her life this winter.
But it is not just the traditional heaters and blankets that The Fellowship has been distributing in Israel; heating aid comes in many different forms, and we are equipped and on the ground ready to handle all of the winter emergency needs that arise.
Just last week, The Fellowship found out about a difficult situation where over 140 elderly Holocaust survivors’ water heaters ruptured due to the freezing temperatures in a small town near Tiberius. This happened over a month ago, and because many of them do not have the money to get the problem fixed, they have been struggling to survive the winter without any hot water.
Within three days of learning about this situation, The Fellowship fixed every hot water heater for the Holocaust survivors and provided electric heaters to those without them. “There are no words to describe my thanks,” said 85-year-old Galena, who suffers from heart disease and diabetes and independently cares for her husband with blood cancer. “We had nowhere to turn to for help.” With tears streaming down her cheeks, she took my hand and looked deep into my eyes. “Thank all of the people who made this possible,” she said. “Tell them that they will certainly be blessed in return.”
It’s painful to know that people like Galena, Annabel, and Svetlana, along with thousands of other elderly in Israel, are living their final years with worry and pain. That is why I feel so grateful for Fellowship friends who have opened their eyes to see the needs and have taken tangible lifesaving action to donate to our winter warmth campaign.
Your love is saving lives. Your care is providing hope.
On behalf of the thousands of elderly in Israel who received heat from The Fellowship this winter, thank you.
With blessings from the Holy Land,