Posted by Irina Rutman
I joined Hakalah of Schechter Holocaust Services in June 2010. It was a challenge for me even though I have been working with elderly clients since 2005. In Hakalah I need to assess my clients’ needs across a very broad range—financial, medical, home care needs, social, and more. My goal is to provide help and comfort so Holocaust survivors can age with dignity in their homes.
Aging encompasses many losses for all of us. For Holocaust survivors these losses are even more complicated. When they were younger they endured the unthinkable and after all these tragedies they left their countries to start over. The combination of the Holocaust and immigration shock is very hard to live with. Regardless of when they came, most of them have very limited English, which impedes their ability to resolve so many of the problems that confront them. Holocaust survivors may not talk about their difficulties in detail and that is why listening, observing, caring, and understanding are most needed. My assessment can make a big difference in their lives.
I am also a daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Working in Hakalah improved my relationship with my mother. My mother is a strong willed, confident, and unbending woman. Those traits can be difficult to handle, but for the first time in my life I think about these qualities as good, because they helped my mother survive, for example, brutally cold winters (-40 F) without any heat in the apartments and total starvation—only 125 g (4.4 oz) bread per day. When my mother refuses my help, does not let me know about her problems, or insists on doing things which could be dangerous for her, I remember that that is called “surviving.”
Working in Hakalah gives new meaning to the word “Jewish.” I always knew that I was Jewish (how could I forget about it in the Former Soviet Union?) but I never felt such a profound connection between me and other Jews. I listen to my clients’ stories about being in ghetto, running from Nazis, hiding in forests without any food, losing their families, coming back to their destroyed homes, and much more. I also learn from my elderly Jewish clients about strength, the will to live, commitment, patience, and humility. They give me more than I give them.
My father always said that giving is much better than receiving and it sure feels that way working with Holocaust survivors!
Irina Rutman has been working at JF&CS since 2005. She works with Russian speaking elderly in New American Services and in Schechter Holocaust Services. She is devoted to providing help and comfort to elderly immigrants.