Living in Israel for part of their childhoods, Rabbi Danielle Eskow of Brookline and her sister, Dr. Marisa Tieger, got to meet many Holocaust survivors and learn about their stories.
Now amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the duo have found a way to combine their professional skills and connections to provide timely assistance to Holocaust survivors in the Boston area.
Teaming with Tieger, a physician at Mass Eye and Ear and a Newton resident, Eskow has organized an initiative to help survivors access their COVID-19 vaccine shots.
The effort involves assisting the elderly survivors in signing up for a Feb. 25 vaccination clinic - and a March 25 follow-up clinic for their second shots - that Brookline physician Dr. Justin Holtzman has volunteered to conduct for them at Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline. Volunteers will provide free transportation for those needing it.
Twenty survivors have registered for the clinic. After the state recently began allowing people 65 to 74 years old or with two underlying health conditions to receive vaccinations, organizers have expanded the clinc to include about 80 children of survivors and elderly members of the congregation.
“So many survivors live alone and don’t necessarily have access to all the information needed to obtain their vaccinations,” Eskow said. “Even for us as younger people it’s very difficult to navigate the vaccination websites for appointments. We wanted to help this population, especially after everything they’ve been through in life.”
“When you think of how few survivors are left, it’s important to preserve their stories for future generations. and to do whatever small things we can to keep them healthy and make their daily lives better,” added Eskow, co-founder and CEO of OnlineJewishLearing, a virtual education program.
Holtzman operates a vaccination site that serves about 235 eligible people each weekday at the Mt. Ida campus of University of Massachusetts Amherst in Newton. The vaccines for the special clinic for Holocaust survivors will be drawn from the same supply he receives from the state for the Mt. Ida clinic.
Holzman said his regular vaccination shipments were delayed this week due to weather issues, but he is confident he will have enough supply for the Mt. Ida and the special Brookline clinics next week. He said he is happy to do his part to help Holocaust survivors receive their vaccines.
“It’s a group of people that gave so much during World War II. To be able to give back to them is a really fulfilling and meaningful thing,” Holtzman said. “Also it helps our mission of getting the vaccine out to those people who need it most. I feel very fortunate to be able to do so.”
Eskow said the connection to Holocaust survivors is a personal one for the sisters. In addition to their exposure to survivors during nine years living in Israel, Eskow was close to her husband’s late grandparents, George and Marsha Goldrich, who were both survivors. She and her family now reside in their former home.
Tieger said their experiences in Israel, which also included visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, “had a large impact on us growing up. Being a physician now [during COVID], I try to vaccinate as many people as I can, really focusing on the highest risk and most vulnerable - and Holocaust survivors fall into that category.”
An estimated 4,500 Holocaust survivors live in the Boston area, according to Eskow. While there is no data on how many have become sick or died of COVID-19, in Israel approximately 900 survivors have died of the virus, the Washington Post reported last month.
Eskow is an active member of Congregation Kehillath Israel, where she volunteers to teach classes and lead services. With her children, she also volunteers for Newton-based JewBer, an organization that during COVID-19 has been delivering free Shabbat and holiday meals to Holocaust survivors and frontline workers.
To identify survivors needing help with vaccinations, Eskow tapped her connections to JewBer and two other Boston-area organizations that serve Holocaust survivors, Jewish Family & Children’s Service, and American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston.
After those groups e-mailed survivors and family members in their networks to see who might want to register for the clinics, Eskow followed up with calls to those responding. Within 36 hours, 14 had signed up, a number that later grew to 20.
Tieger, who with Holtzman’s office will administer the vaccinations, said the response is gratifying, calling it “a confirmation that there is a need and that we can be of help to this community.”
Eskow said she has received warm feedback from the survivors she has contacted.
“So many young people today are so busy with their day-to-day lives that they don’t think about helping survivors. So when someone reaches out to them, they are so appreciative,” she said.
To register for the clinics, or for more information, call 857-245-6763.
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.