Observing Holocaust Remembrance Day in the shadow of coronavirus

This year’s public ceremonies have been cancelled, as survivors battle loneliness and fear of infection. Local nonprofits are reaching out to survivors, offering support.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Holocaust Remembrance Day, which begins Monday evening, is usually observed in Israel with somber ceremonies and emotional public gatherings, often featuring a Holocaust survivor speaking to a crowd about his or her experiences. But this year, events will go virtual due to the coronavirus, as survivors battle loneliness, isolation, and the threat of illness.

Today, 189,500 Holocaust survivors live in Israel. Seventy-seven percent of them are over the age of 80, with an average age of 83.9, putting them in the highest-risk group for people who become infected with the coronavirus. Eight-hundred Holocaust survivors in Israel are over 100 years old.

Virtual events are set to happen in place of public ceremonies, like the “Memory in the Living Room Project,” where people can join an online meeting and hear a survivor tell his or her story. Zoom meetings will be organized by the municipalities of Jerusalem, Haifa, and Ashdod, hosting discussions about the Holocaust and its impact.

However, many Holocaust survivors who would have attended public ceremonies lack home computers and the technical skills needed to participate in virtual events.

As part of this year’s modified Holocaust Remembrance Day, the cities of Netanya and Hadera are launching an initiative with the Aviv Association for Holocaust Survivors. The new “Remembering the Victims: Embracing the Survivors from the Balconies” event will happen at 10:00 a.m.

The program asks that Israelis go out onto their balconies, and after the siren and minute of silence, sing Israel’s national anthem “HaTikvah” together, in a sign of solidarity with Holocaust survivors.

The Holocaust Victims’ Welfare Fund is ramping up its efforts during this challenging period. The foundation, which serves tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors, has expanded its volunteer system and helps survivors with loneliness, providing emotional and mental health support, home deliveries of food and medicine, and emergency assistance.

Limor Livnat, chair of the Holocaust Victims’ Welfare Fund volunteers association, said to Israel Hayom, “We all have a moral obligation, a duty, to be there for Holocaust survivors. They have survived the horrors, and they are still here. We must ensure that they live life with dignity.”

The Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority provides a supportive framework for approximately 7,000 survivors. Focusing on mental and emotional health, the organization provides counseling from professional psychologists via telephone and video calls. For any inquiries about Holocaust survivors’ rights and requests for assistance, the organization’s information center can be contacted by dialing *5105.

Israel’s first coronavirus fatality was 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even. He was a resident of the Nofim Towers assisted living facility in Jerusalem, where the coronavirus claimed the lives of at least four elderly people. Many Holocaust survivors in Israel live in assisted living facilities, which have proven to be a hotspot for deadly outbreaks both in the Jewish state and worldwide.