Here is a special piece I wrote for the Sun Sentinel on the Holocaust Heroes Worldwide (HHW) Rosh Hashanah dinner celebration in Miami.
Let us use our gifts and resources to help others, even if it’s as simple as giving someone a ride. We all have something we can contribute. You don’t have to be a Holocaust educator to make an impact. You don’t have to be directly connected to the Holocaust to care about the Survivors. You just have to be willing to go a little out of your comfort zone to ask good questions and to be of service to others.
This past week was an incredible opportunity for volunteers to connect with the Survivors at the Holocaust Heroes Worldwide (HHW) Rosh Hashanah dinner celebration. Over 80 people attended, danced, and ate a delicious meal at the Chabad Israeli Center of Aventura. Some of the Survivors were bar mitzvahed for the very first time!
Everyday is a gift. In a world post covid, every human interaction and celebration is felt deeper. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, interactions with Survivors has always felt magnified, but even more in recent times. I recognize how much their presence is a gift to all of us.
While many look at the Survivors as victims, Moran Alfasi, Founder and Executive Director of HHW, has rebranded the Survivors as Heroes of Life. They did not just survive the war; they built new lives, families, and businesses.
This incredible population did everything they could do to not only survive, but in doing so, they have taught so many of us how to live. We need to admire them for their heroism and their commitment to creating a better world.
While many organizations wait for Holocaust awareness day or month to organize programs, HHW is committed to creating community and connection for survivors 365 days of the year. In addition to providing programs, they also provide companionship for the survivors.
Not all the survivors are lucky to have family so close, if any family at all. Due to their age, many have lost most of their closest friends. HHW has a special program named The Tribe Project. It provides a group of volunteers to call and support the survivors through everyday errands and celebrations we take for granted.
After the community holiday dinner, Survivor Yvon shared her heartfelt feelings, “Because of Moran she is so lucky to have a life where she wakes up everyday feeling like she has a family, and that she matters.” Her ‘Tribe’ sitting nearby was touched by her words.
Every Survivor is assigned a Tribe of four volunteers. Tribe volunteers commit to calling the Survivor once a week, and visiting once a month. In total, each Survivor is guaranteed 16 personal interactions a month.
The Tribe goes through special training and regular meetings with HHW to insure the Survivors needs are being met. This is special because a lot of the volunteers have children.
Through the Tribe, Yvon not only has the love of the volunteers, but their 12 children. Despite losing most of her family, Yvon now feels loved and cherished again.
Sadly, some of the Survivors who helped launch the organization, including Julius Eisenstein, have since passed away.
This mission has never been more critical. The Survivors need us in their final days to bring more joy and companionship. More importantly, they need to know their memory and lessons will continue into the next generation. HHW is committed to continuing the story through meaningful and educational programs with different groups.
HHW has a personal mission to insure the Survivors’ stories and visions for the world continues, even when there are no more Survivors. They need your support expanding their educational efforts to reach more people.
It’s not just about combating antisemitism, but truly teaching others how important it is to be kind, and that words truly matter. Never Again means denouncing hatred against any group, and collaboratively calling out HATE so that no act or words against a minority translate into violence. Some of the biggest lessons we can take from the survivors, “forgive, but never forget.” and “be better, not bitter.”
While some wait for the new year to begin resolutions, let the shofar and story of the Survivors remind us that we have the opportunity to start over anytime we choose. Whether it be repairing a friendship, starting a new hobby, quitting that job you hate, we are blessed as Jews to live in a safer world. A world where rebuilding and rebirthing gives us a chance to build a stronger foundation and lead more meaningful lives. Go be the change you wish to see in the world.
This piece was originally published in the Sun Sentinel Jewish Journal September 21st, 2022.
Rayna Rose Exelbierd is a motivational speaker and youth mentor. She is the Chief Empowerment Officer, CEO of The Rose Grows and Author of The Girl Who Said Hello to Everyone.