Caring For Holocaust Survivors’ Health And Dignity, All Year Round

The story of Mordechai Greenstein and Yosef Arzad

In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, or the International Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, it is important to not only remember those who were lost, but also the survivors of the Holocaust who are still among us. 

Mordechai Greenstein is one of the approximately 150,000 Holocaust survivors who live in Israel today. Like many of them, he struggles with loneliness, and his health requires supervision. For the past 3 years, Mordechai has been visited weekly by volunteer EMT Yosef Arzad as part of United Hatzalah’s Ten Kavod (Giving Respect) program, which arranges weekly visits by medically-trained volunteers to isolated senior citizens in order to check on their health and alleviate their sense of loneliness. In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the two men have agreed to share their stories.

Mordechai was born in the city of Lodz in Poland in 1932. He grew up with a loving family and was seven years old when the Germans invaded. A few weeks after the invasion, Mordechai’s father had the foresight to escape and took his family to Warsaw. From there they fled by foot to the border with the Soviet Union and ended up in Bialystock, which was under Soviet control. In Bialystock, they stayed at a refugee camp for a few weeks until Stalin announced that he was allowing all the Jews who fled from Poland to immigrate to Russia and relocate to wherever they wanted in the country.  

“My father chose to relocate to Medyakovskii which was located in the southern Ural region,” Mordechai recounted. “We spent three weeks on a train to get there. I learned there in school for six years as my father worked. After the war, we were able to return to Poland and we went back to Lodz. That was the time when the Poles were killing many Jews who came back to reclaim their homes and their possessions. Jews simply wanted to come back to their homes and paid for it with their lives.” Mordechai eventually immigrated to Israel, volunteered to join the newly forming IDF, and fought in the war of independence while the rest of his family stayed in a refugee camp in Germany that was set up by UNRWA. “Six months after I was in Israel, my family joined me. It made me very happy.” 

After working in the diamond industry, he retired in 1999 and moved north to the town of Ma’alot. Today, Mordechai’s children live far away and he had no one to visit him until Yosef began coming on a regular basis. “When Yosef comes, he checks my vital signs we talk a lot about topics like philosophy and religion,” Mordechai said. “He has also helped me out in a lot of instances with bureaucracy, especially with medical issues over the past two years. I truly respect him, he is a person with a lot of good qualities. While we argue a lot, there really isn’t any point as neither of us will really convince the other. We kind of just enjoy it.” 

Yosef is married with five children and has 12 grandchildren of his own. He works in the field of hi-tech as an electrical engineer and has been volunteering as an EMT with United Hatzalah for the past six years. He spoke about the special connection that he developed with Mordechai. “Mordechai like many other older people doesn’t want to be a burden on anyone,” Yosef explained. “He doesn’t like asking when he needs something. Through the fact that I keep visiting with him, I have merited to gain his trust and he lets me know when there is something he needs. I’ve tried to help him when I can and sometimes lets me.”  

Yosef added, “During our visits, we share a lot about our beliefs. I am a very religious man. He is anti-religion. We often have lots of arguments about faith but we respect each other and each other’s opinions. He has an iron will to live. That served him well over the last year as I accompanied him through some of the most difficult times of his life.”

Yosef explained, “In the summer of 2021, Mordechai got Covid, quickly deteriorated, and was hooked up to a ventilator. On Chanukah of that year, he came home after making a full recovery. He had a medical ordeal that could have killed him, and in my opinion, this was another Chanukah miracle that he made it back home alive and well, having made a full recovery from Covid after suffering from a major heart condition just a few months earlier. I am thankful he is here and that we can continue our visits. Most people would not have made it through what Mordechai has lived through. Not the Holocaust, not returning to Poland only to face violence and death after the war, fighting in the IDF, making a life in Israel, and then of course his battle against Covid. His will to live is like nothing I have ever seen before and I am learning so much from that.” 

Yosef concluded by saying, “We as a society need to do more to protect the elderly and especially those who lived through the Holocaust who are still with us. We need to be there for them and support them, not just on memorial days, but throughout the year as well. We need to do this as individuals and as a society.” 

About United Hatzalah’s Ten Kavod program:    

​​United Hatzalah established the Ten Kavod program in 2012 in response to the many incidents of neglect of the elderly reported by our volunteer EMTs. The program’s mission is to provide a safety net for Israel’s at-risk Holocaust survivors and the elderly population living alone in our own communities. Through weekly home visits by trained EMS personnel, the program provides free medical supervision and ensures that their day-to-day needs are met by assisting with the maximization of benefits that the elderly can receive. In addition, the weekly visits improve the mental and emotional state of the elderly by alleviating loneliness. 

While various social welfare organizations provide home visits to at-risk elderly, Ten Kavod is the only project that combines social and medical aspects of care, providing cost-free holistic preventative support to the program’s participants. Through weekly visits by our trained volunteers, the Ten Kavod project safeguards the health and wellness of more than 700 vulnerable elderly citizens of Israel, about 100 of whom are Holocaust survivors.