The Holocaust is one of the best documented and darkest events in history.
Six million Jews and countless others were brutally slain for one reason: faith. Today, the number of Holocaust survivors is dwindling and history will change when there is no-one left alive who remembers the Holocaust first-hand.
At Yad LaKashish, survivors are using their hands – elderly, shaky but someone full of energy – to create light. They are crafting Hanukkah menorahs to be sold in Israel and abroad, a last attempt, according to Julea Gasner, public relations associate for Yad LaKashish, to turn a darkened past into a promising future.
This Hanukkah season features various menorahs – one including an olive tree as a symbol of the olive oil used to light the Menorah in the Holy Temple and another depicting King David playing his harp with the Hebrew words, “A Psalm of song of the dedication of the Temple of David.”
A third menorah features two deer, in Hebrew “tzvi,” meaning beauty and splendor in reference to Isaiah 28:5, in which God is referred to as a crown of beauty (Tzvi) for His nation, and in the book of Daniel 11:16 and 41), where the Land of Israel is referred to as the Beautiful (Tzvi) Land.
Another menorah features some of the most prominent landmarks in Jerusalem.
“Making a menorah is a good illustration of community,” Gasner said.
She explained that today’s survivors came to Israel hungry and devastated. Most of them lost their loved ones and property in the war. They built lives from nothing. Now, in their later years, many of these survivors are once again in poverty and alone.
Gasner said that more than 300 elderly and disabled Jerusalem residents depend on the organization to make their golden years shine through paid employment. Since its establishment in 1962, two goals have guided Yad LaKashish activities: to empower needy elderly to be active and contributing citizens, and to advance positive attitudes in the community at large about the elderly and their place in society.
The organization aims to empower and support elderly Jerusalemites on a daily basis through creative work opportunities in their artistic workshops, providing dignity and a place to build community in the context of nearly half of them living alone. Each participant gets an unlimited monthly bus pass, a hot lunch free of charge, dental care subsidies and communal day trips.
Reaping the social and health benefits of coming together as a group, Yad LaKashish becomes their community and family – something, unfortunately, missing from many of their lives. According to Glasner, the crowd at the organization is largely made up of men and women from the former Soviet Union who experienced forced labor as children in Siberian war camps.
“Our elderly speak of dislocated families, one woman telling about being separated from family quite young and forced to work 12 to 14 hours of work in the factory. We have Ethiopians who walked across the Sudan to Israel, losing family along the way. We have one woman who made it to Israel after surviving the European Holocaust, only to have husband die after they got to Israel – she has been with the organization for 40 years,” Gasner said.
The menorahs are made and sold, Gasner explained, and the money the organization makes from the survivors’ art is reinvested back into the organization, which then provides them with the work and community building activities.
“Making our products is a group effort – we all have to work together and trust each other’s work,” she said. “In addition, the menorahs bring light and warmth to a home.”
The fact that it is Israelis creating these artisan Judaica for Hanukkah is also symbolic. During Hanukkah, Gasner explained, the Jewish people celebrate miracles.
She said, “In Israel today, we see many different kinds of Jews from all around the world living in the land together – also a miracle.”
Hanukkah begins this year on Dec. 2. Purchase a Holocaust survivor menorah.