Make a wish

Israeli venture grants ‘wishes’ to 1,600 Holocaust survivors

Mishalat HaLev, or 'Wish of the Heart,' a joint initiative by Israel's Health Ministry and the Ezer MiZion aid group looks to get aging survivors to 'dare to dream,' director says

A joint venture by Israel’s Health Ministry and the Ezer MiZion aid organization has granted the wishes of more than 1,600 Holocaust survivors in the past four years, the director of the initiative told eJewishPhilanthropy on Monday ahead of Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Adina Englard, the chief social worker in the Health Ministry’s Geriatrics Department, developed the idea for Mishalat HaLev, meaning “Wish of the Heart,” after seeing that many of the Holocaust survivors living in state-run facilities rarely if ever left the building because of their disabilities, Mishalat HaLev director Naomi Mizrahi told eJP.

“They saw the Holocaust survivors in these institutions weren’t able to do what they want. People who are physically disabled, who need a special car for a wheelchair or even an ambulance in some cases. They live their lives in a cycle, based on the schedule of the old-age institution or geriatric hospital,” Mizrahi said.

The Health Ministry issued a tender, which was won by Ezer MiZion, a medical aid group. It has been running the program for the past four years.

The program is open to Holocaust survivors living in Health Ministry geriatric facilities. That mostly means survivors who immigrated from the former Soviet Union, according to Mizrahi, though she said there are also people from elsewhere in Europe and some from North Africa. 

Mishalat HaLev receives a list of eligible participants from the Health Ministry and then meets individually with the survivors, sometimes for over an hour, to speak with them and understand what wish would give them the most satisfaction, Mizrahi said.

Often, The “wishes” that the organization grants are, on the surface, relatively modest: visiting the Western Wall, attending a concert or going to the beach.

“One woman said she just wanted to go to the supermarket, something that’s routine for most people. But for someone who’s disabled, who is living in a geriatric hospital, who needs an ambulance to go anywhere, that’s very complicated,” Mizrahi said.

In another case, a woman wanted to visit her old home, a seemingly simple request, albeit one made more complicated by the fact that she had severe mobility issues and her apartment was located on the fourth floor of a building with no elevator. But Mizrahi said the organization found a way to make it work.

While the wishes themselves bring joy to the survivor, Mizrahi said the real value of the initiative is that it gets the person to think about what they want, what would make them happy.

“The hard part is to make the person dream. A lot of them don’t dare to dream, to think beyond the day-to-day. This allows the person to do something different, to go out. They can think, ‘What do I want? Where do I want to be?’” she said. “And only then comes the second part, ‘How do we make it happen despite their disability?’”