Posted by Ellen Krechmer
I climbed the worn steps leading to a run-down, two-family home on a lovely street. The steps slightly gave way as I climbed, and I pushed open the heavy old door leading to a musty-smelling vestibule. I rang the bell with his name printed below it, and I was buzzed into a hallway. He called down from two flights up in a strongly-accented Polish-English, “Who is it?”
I had called this man prior to my visit. After introducing myself as an employee of Jewish Family & Children’s Service on the phone, he told me he didn’t have any money to give me and abruptly hung up the phone. I called his daughter to ask if I could visit, and she told him to expect me, so I yelled up my name. He either didn’t remember or didn’t hear me so the question and the answer were repeated again and then again.
Finally I switched to another response, shouting upstairs, “I have shalach manos (Purim gift basket)!” He made his way down the stairs, and asked me, with tears in his eyes, “You brought me shalach manos?”
When we entered the apartment, he took my hands, thanked me, and asked if he could sing for me. I nodded, and he sang to me in Yiddish with an obviously trained and beautiful voice. His gratitude was as clear as his melodies.
This was just one of my many experiences with the elders in the visitation program of JF&CS Schechter Holocaust Services. This man, who I later discovered had been a cantor in Europe, felt so touched being the recipient of the traditional shalach manos that it brought tears to his eyes. These elders have suffered so much and have been given so little. Our volunteers who visit Holocaust survivors bring gift packages on major Jewish holidays, and visit or call once a month often experience these unforgettable moments. I appreciate the chance to interact directly with these elders and am always touched by their gratitude.
Since 2004, Ellen Krechmer has been the Program Coordinator of the holiday visitation program and Café Hakalah, a monthly social gathering for Holocaust survivors, two components of Schechter Holocaust Services. She is devoted to providing services to Holocaust survivors that meet their specific needs. She also manages data from the Claims Conference and reporting requirements for Hakalah.