The Story of Yosef Arzad and Holocaust Survivor Mordechai Greenstein

Yosef Azrad is the regional coordinator of United Hatzalah’s Ten Kavod (Giving Respect) program for the city of Ma’alot Tarshiha and the surrounding area. He oversees 20 volunteers who visit senior citizens in the area every week. Yosef himself visits a senior citizen participant by the name of Mordechai Greenstein once a week and has been doing so for the past two years. The two men have built up quite a relationship and Mordechai has shared with Yosef his unique story and experiences from when he was younger and survived the Holocaust. 

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Mordechai Greenstein (right) and Yossi Azrad)

Yosef Azrad – 

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. Yosef has been volunteering with United Hatzalah for the past six years he spoke about the special connection that he developed with Mordechai. 

“I met Mordechai, not through the social service system, but rather because I inquired in the community after I saw a house that it seemed was occupied but I never saw the person who lived there,” Yosef explained. “I asked around by some neighbors and I was told that the man who lives there is a Russian speaker and that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with him. After some time, I found another neighbor who was willing to translate. We approached Mordechai and invited him to my family’s home for a meal for the upcoming holiday. He refused and said that he didn’t need anything. He wouldn’t even accept a cake. As I got to know him a bit better I learned that he doesn’t particularly like religion. However, he agreed to let me come and visit him once a week. We spoke and he told me about his family and his life.”

“Mordechai like many other older people doesn’t want to be a burden on anyone. 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 a will of iron and 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.”

Mordechai Greenstein – 

Mordechai was born in the city of Lodz in Poland in 1932. He grew up with a loving family in Lodz 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-occupied 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 re-locate 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 Jews for coming home because they felt that the Jews wanted to reclaim their homes and their possessions, which was true. We wanted to simply come back home, and have a home, and we paid for it with our lives. There was a lot of killing of returning Jews in those days.” 

Mordechai said that his family moved to Czechoslovakia and then to the U.S.-occupied area of Germany. From there he immigrated to Israel and 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.” 

While he was in Germany, Mordechai studied how to be a metalworker while he was in Germany. After the War of Independence, he got a job as a metalworker and worked in that field for two years before he switched careers and began a career polishing diamonds, which he continued for the next thirty years. After he retired in 1999, he moved north to the town of Ma’alot. His children moved to other towns and one of his sons became religious. Mordechai has strong beliefs against religion and when his son became religious it created a divide between them. Mordechai has other children, but they all live far away and he lives alone and had no one to visit him until Yosef began coming on a regular basis.

“Yosef and I talk a lot. We argue a lot about philosophy and about religion. He has helped me out in a lot of instances, especially with medical issues over the past two years. While we have differences of opinion on a lot of things, I respect him. He is a person with a lot of good qualities. Mordechai himself has returned to religion, and I have had enough of people who have refound religion, more than I can bear. My son returned to religion but I am against religious beliefs. 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.” 

Mordechai added that over the Covid era “Yosef really helped me and supported me through his friendship. This is not a simple thing to come every week to visit someone and I really appreciate it.” 

For the past 21 years while living in Ma’alot Mordechai has traveled south to Eilat for the winters. Due to Covid, he wasn’t able to travel south this year. Mordechai got Covid in Ma’alot after he received two vaccinations against the disease. When Mordechai became ill with the disease in the summer of 2021, he lost a lot of his lucidity and couldn’t function well. Yosef rushed over to see what could be done to help him, but just one day after he was diagnosed, Mordechai wasn’t himself. Yosef contacted a doctor at Mordechai’s health clinic in order to make sure that he was updated and in contact with Mordechai. The next day the doctor called Mordechai, and when Mordechai couldn’t talk properly on the phone, they sent an ambulance to take Mordechai to the Galil Medical Center where he was hospitalized in the Corona ward. 

One of the nurses in the ward, Oren Kadosh, who at the time was in charge of the Corona ward, is also a United Hatzalah volunteer. Yosef contacted him and updated him regarding Mordechai’s condition. Yosef told Oren about Mordechai’s previous medical condition, that he had suffered a heart attack the previous winter in Eilat, and the two United Hatzalah volunteers acted as a liaison between Mordechai and his family updating them along the way with regards to Mordechai’s developing condition. 

Mordechai’s condition was so bad that he was put on a ventilator and they weren’t sure whether he would survive. Thanks to the constant care from Oren and the whole medical team in the Galilee Medical Center, Mordechai survived and was released from the Corona ward after two weeks. He was released fully from the hospital a week later, after having gone through a week-long recuperation period and having made a miraculous full recovery. Mordechai was then taken to a senior citizen’s home near Tiberias where it was easier for his son to visit him and take care of him. Yosef of course went to visit him there as well. 

Yosef added, “Mordechai came home on Chanukah after making a full recovery. He had a medical ordeal that should 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.”