Magazine article The Christian Century

Christian and Jewish Groups Form Partnerships to Care for Holocaust Survivors

Magazine article The Christian Century

Christian and Jewish Groups Form Partnerships to Care for Holocaust Survivors

Article excerpt

When Ya'akov Edelstein, an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor, agreed to a bar mitzvah ceremony he never had as a child, he asked that it take place at Haifa's Home for Holocaust Survivors.

Although Edelstein and his wife live in a comfortable senior citizen residence in this northern Israeli city, he wanted to celebrate this milestone--73 years late--at the survivors' home: "I wanted to mark this day with people who experienced what I experienced. No one can appreciate this the way they can."

The home, which provides housing to 75 survivors and hot meals and services to 200 others, was founded through a collaboration between an Orthodox Israeli philanthropist and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, an evangelical Christian organization based in Israel.

While the vast majority of survivor funding comes from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which negotiates for compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution, several Christian organizations assist Holocaust survivors in Israel and elsewhere.

That assistance is more vital than ever, say survivor advocates. A quarter of survivors in Israel live below the poverty line, and the percentage is even higher in the former Soviet Union.

The survivors' advanced age and financial challenges "have given us an even greater sense of urgency," said David Parsons, ICEJ's senior spokesman.

Parsons said the thousands of mostly evangelical Christians from dozens of countries who donate money to ICEJ have two motivations: "They want to bless the Jewish people and they want to pay the moral debt we Christians owe to the Jewish people because of the atrocities committed against them in the name of Jesus."

More than 26,000 Christians have been honored by Israel's Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, for saving Jews during the Holocaust, but many more actively collaborated with the Nazis, some of whom were Christians.

In an attempt to make amends, tens of thousands of Christians, especially from European countries that embraced the Nazi regime, have volunteered in Israeli hospitals and homes for the aged and have donated tens of millions of dollars to organizations that help Jewish people with financial needs, especially survivors.

These Christians are working in other nations, too. Christians Care International, for example, just opened a senior center in Ukraine that will help hundreds of impoverished Jews, many of whom are Holocaust survivors.

Survivors are typically in worse physical, emotional, and financial shape than others their age, said Yudit Setz, assistant director of ICEJ's aid department. The effects of starvation, frostbite, torture (including medical experimentation), and lack of medical and dental care when they were children have followed the survivors into old age. Many lack the familial support other seniors rely on.

While Holocaust survivors from some European countries have received financial compensation for loss of property and enslavement, others, especially in the former Soviet Union, subsist on tiny state pensions and some assistance from the Claims Conference, said Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. …

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