Miami-Dade County

Faith-Based Outreach Leads to Vaccinations for Holocaust Survivors in Miami-Dade

Volunteers drove 150 seniors to receive the vaccinations

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The Jackson Memorial Hospital system is forging partnerships within the faith-based community in order to simplify and expedite the vaccination process.

On Wednesday, the Aventura-Turnberry Jewish Center organized transportation so that 150 senior citizens, including 25 Holocaust survivors, to receive their vaccine shots at the North Dade Health Center.

The effort included a caravan of volunteers who drove the seniors to the clinic.

“Our tradition teaches that if you have saved one life, it’s as if you’ve saved the entire world, so I can’t tell you how meaningful and rewarding it is to be able to facilitate these life-saving appointments for the most vulnerable members of our community,” said the synagogue's Rabbi Jonathan Berkun.

One of the seniors who received their dose was Esther Ross, a 96-year-old Holocaust survivor who was 14 when the German army herded her family into hiding in Lodz, Poland.

“I never knew what it meant to be a teenager,” Ross said. 

The pandemic has been a trying time for everyone, especially senior citizens, but those who have already gone through the unimaginable have a different perspective on the meaning of hard times. 

“My mother, my brother, my father were shot in the ghetto, my sisters were taken away, sent to Auschwitz,” Ross said.  She made it through Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, and now feels fortunate to receive the vaccine.

“And I think it’s the right thing that the doctors, nurses got first, because they’re involved, they’re trying to save us,” Ross said. 

Another survivor, Erika Leib, told NBC 6 that “I feel very good because now I feel safe."

Like Ross, Leib was 14 when the terror started in Germany. She remembers that Kristalnacht spurred her parents to send her away to school in England. 
“I was one of the lucky ones,” she noted. 

Now, Leib says, the vaccine is another type of liberation, this time from the tyranny of a pandemic.

“Why yes, it is, because you feel you’re not isolated anymore, you can go around family and hopefully nothing will happen,” Leib said.

Just making a vaccination appointment takes a tremendous amount of patience. Web sites crash and phone lines are constantly busy, so getting groups together from churches, synagogues and mosques is a way to expedite the process.

“We hope to be able to do more. We hope that many other communities of faith will partner with the state, so that we can make sure that everybody gets vaccinated, and we are able to return to some semblance of normal,” Berkun said.

The rabbi added that he and the volunteers were honored to be part of this vaccination effort.

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