Fulfilling Her Destiny Helping Holocaust Survivors
By: Annaliese Johnson, ICEJ Staff
Maria was born in Russia, married a Jewish man, and then moved to Israel with her husband on an Aliyah flight sponsored by the Christian Embassy. Three years later, she started volunteering part time at the Haifa Home and then recently came on as a full-time staff member, where her kindness and experience have made an instant impact on the residents as well as the staff.
“After setting foot on the Land of Israel, I was constantly asking myself: ‘How can I serve this country? How could my knowledge and qualifications be useful to the Jewish people?’” she said.
Maria knew that if she opened her heart to the Lord, He would fill it with an outpouring of love and comfort for the nation and people of Israel, in keeping with Isaiah 40:1. After being in contact with Yudit Setz, head of our Haifa Home team, she made it her mission to bring new hope to the Holocaust survivors living there.
The most important task for those working at the Haifa Home is to make every resident truly feel at home. Maria’s presence has been doing just that, as she has been a blessing and joy to everyone involved.
The first practical step is to understand the residents’ needs, which Maria is able to do through her language and interpersonal skills. Maria speaks English, Russian and Hebrew, and thus she can effectively understand and communicate the needs and wishes of the residents, especially those who have recently arrived from Ukraine and Russia. For many, they often are overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness and abandonment after having to suddenly leave behind all they had known, such as an 89-year-old Ukrainian resident who was shaken by air raids at the start of the Russian invasion last year just as she was by the German invasion during World War II.
More than just understanding their words, Maria focuses on understanding the hearts of the residents. She finds they long for genuine connections with individuals who can relate to them.
“Though they are all older than I am, I can understand not only their language but also their culture and the country in which they grew up,” explained Maria. “I take great joy in visiting them and encouraging them to keep living and not feel downhearted.”
Along with Simcha, our team physiotherapist, Maria took several residents to IKEA recently to purchase basic items for their new apartments. One of the women, aged 85, had just arrived in Israel with nothing but one outfit and a toothbrush. She and the other immigrants from Ukraine fled from their homes with hardly anything, but with Maria’s language assistance and Simcha’s attentiveness, they were able to purchase all the bedding and household items they needed.
After helping the residents settle in, Maria began the longer-term project of connecting them with Israel by teaching them the Hebrew language. Each week, Maria gathers with some ten ‘students’ around a table for companionship and Hebrew lessons. Knowing the difficulty in learning new languages, she is extra proud of her students when their faces shine after recognizing a new word.
“It is my greatest joy to see that my students are successful. It always has been and always will be,” expressed Maria. “I never envisioned myself teaching Hebrew to such elderly students, but I am amazed at what God has done through this initiative.”
When asked what she enjoys the most about working at the Haifa Home, Maria’s face lit up.
“I enjoy working with the ICEJ team, because we have a very special team with special people. I can learn a lot from them,” she said. “I watched Yudit treating the residents with love and care as if they were her own children, which strengthened my desire to help. I just gradually felt like this was the place for me to be.”
“My goal is to bring as much light as I can to their lives, to encourage them that they can carry on with their life. This is because they left everything, including their friends. I want them to see that Israel is a nice country where they can continue their lives. Working at the Haifa Home, I can fulfill my destiny,” she added.
The ICEJ is very grateful for Maria’s commitment and passion for improving the lives of our Haifa Home residents.
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