Meir Panim: A lifeline for the lonely

During lockdown, they supported all those who would have been forgotten otherwise. Now they need your help to keep helping others.

In cooperation with Meir Panim , | updated: 12:05 PM

Leah speaks with Maryana
Leah speaks with Maryana
Arutz Sheva

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As the coronavirus enters its “fourth wave” and people start talking about lockdown again, the most vulnerable people in our society recall the lonely months they sat at home last year, deprived of the social contact they so sorely need to keep their heads above-water.

Leah Kaslawski was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. She survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Israel with her husband and two children in 1990.

“My husband and I were married for 52 years,” she relates. “Two years ago, my husband passed away from cancer, and I fell into a deep depression – I felt like I had no reason to live.”

At just the right moment, Leah found Meir Panim, “And they rescued me,” she says.

“I went to their center in Dimona and I found myself again. Their social activities, just being among people, talking to them… It saved me.”

Meir Panim provides a range of social and cultural activities for those in need, as well as hot meals for those who might not be able to afford proper nutrition otherwise. “Most importantly, we provide those who come – who are mostly Holocaust survivors – with a social structure, a sense of community,” relates Ilanit, one of Meir Panim’s volunteers.

But with the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic and government lockdowns, that all came to an end. The lockdowns caused things to shut down, keeping survivors at home and unable to congregate in Meir Panim's centers.

“I simply sat at home alone during the coronavirus,” Leah says. “I didn’t see a soul.”

The survivors could not come to the Meir Panim center, so Meir Panim came to them. “We set up a system of volunteers who took responsibility for all the seniors, making sure their physical needs were taken care of, sending care packages with the help of the municipality, and so forth,” Ilanit says.

But Meir Panim didn’t stop there, because they knew the elderly needed more than just a hot meal. Maryana, another of Meir Panim’s volunteers, was determined to make sure that Meir Panim continued to be a community, even if they could only make contact over the phone. She got together a group of volunteers, and together, they provided phone support for the 40 Holocaust survivors for whom Meir Panim had become a lifeline.

“Most of the Holocaust survivors in Dimona are Russian-speaking,” Maryana relates, “so I organized a group of Russian-speaking volunteers and we made daily phone calls, checking in on those who couldn’t go out, giving them support, and making sure they didn’t feel abandoned. Everyone gained from it – the volunteers and the survivors alike – and we all made new friends.”

Once the lockdown was lifted, everyone was delighted to get back to meeting in person, and now Meir Panim in Dimona as well as in other Israeli cities is hoping to expand its activities, giving support to those who would be utterly alone otherwise.

They’re asking for your help, so that they can continue helping others.

Click here to help