On January 22-27, a team of 21 American specialists came to Israel to conduct a week-long mobility and eyeglass clinic in Ashkelon. Among the team were physiotherapists, mechanics, eyeglass specialists, and helpers. The clinic helped over 900 Holocaust survivors, veterans, disabled individuals, and those in need! Similar to previous years, people were provided with wheelchairs, walkers, canes, prescription glasses, and more as they came to the clinic to be fitted with the items that would give them a better quality of life. Throughout the week, the clinic garnered much attention, including an interview with a local Russian news show, Planet Ashkelon, and an award ceremony by the Mayor of Ashkelon, Tomer Glam.
This project was initiated by Phil Liller, head of the USA team, and coordinated in Israel by Helping Hand Coalition and the Municipality of Ashkelon.
Co-organized by Sofia Beylin, the Deputy Mayor of Ashkelon, the city provided the location and translators for the clinic. Students, olim hadashim (new immigrants), and other locals were among those who volunteered their time to assist throughout the week. The people who came to the clinic or were helped during home visits expressed their awe that foreigners had come to freely give their time and the items they desperately needed! By the end of the week, more than 1,000 prescription glasses, 500 sunglasses, 20 wheelchairs, 70 rollators, and 120 canes were distributed. All of these brand-new items were provided by the USA team.
Drucie Peterson, the USA team’s trip planner, grew emotional as she explained, “It’s so important to be here to serve and make sure these people are taken care of.”
When time allowed, the survivors and other individuals liked sharing their stories with the team. One experience greatly impacted David Pingol, a Filipino physiotherapist, when a survivor recalled his experience in the Holocaust. Simon Fischer was two years old when the war started, but he remembers the years well. During the Holocaust, he and his family were taken from their home in Odessa and sent to the camps, where they remained until Simon was six years old. His father was killed during this time, but his mother and younger sister survived. After the war, anti-Semistism continued to run rampant, causing Simon to be persecuted by the other children who chanted, “No Jews! No Jews!” However, a Ukrainian man stood up for Simon, adopting him as a son, and ensured he was unharmed. When Simon finished speaking, David’s translator, Petra Hennig, a German representative from March of Life, apologized for her grandfather’s part in the war.
When asked what it meant to help the survivors and hear their stories, David said, “It brings to mind what humanity can be and how bad we can be without God in our lives. How inhuman we can be to one another. But, at the same time, to see Petra ask forgiveness, there’s the other side of humanity that has the capacity to humble ourselves and seek forgiveness. So, all those things were just a combination of a beautiful moment.”
Dan Peterson was helping people find suitable eyeglasses on the second day of the clinic when Planet Ashkelon, a Russian news show, arrived to film a piece on the clinic. Maria Butinsky, an optometrist and olim hadash (new immigrants) from Russia, translated for Dan as he was interviewed. “Well, we are so happy to be here in Israel,” he exclaimed. “The people in Ashkelon are wonderful! When we provide glasses and wheelchairs, they are really appreciative.”
At the end of the week, the Mayor of Ashkelon, Tomer Glam, came to the clinic to express his gratitude and present each team member with a certificate and hat to thank them for their work. In his speech, Tomer said, “It’s very exciting to come and see this wonderful work and gesture of different volunteers and organizations working together. I am very moved by all of these activities because I grew up in a difficult situation, so I understand the needs of these people. We were a family of ten siblings, and there are certain memories I cannot forget, including my father gluing his glasses because we didn’t have the money to buy new ones. Sometimes we take things for granted, but not in this case. It is a blessing and a huge privilege to the State of Israel and its people that you see these needs and send humanitarian aid to fill the gap. So we appreciate you.”
Andre Gasiorowski, Chairman of Helping Hand Coalition, was present for the ceremony and told the mayor, “The motivation [of this work] is not only to be ethical, but most of our friends are deep believers in God, and doing good things for Him is to do good things for other people.”
The mayor nodded in agreement, adding, “Everyone who believes in God understands they have to do good things.”
Sofia Beylin also spoke at the ceremony, exclaiming, “During this week, we have become like family. I want to thank the mayor, who has been a partner since day one. As soon as I mentioned this project to him, there was full cooperation to find a place and put all of this together. Thank you to my team and volunteers from the schools who will get their own ceremony later. Thank you to Helping Hand Coalition for doing this initiative in Ashkelon. Andre Gasiorowski and his family have worked with us for many years. They are a friend to Israel and its people, always listening and there to help if there is a need.”
Echoing Sofia’s speech, Phil Liller asked if he could share a few words before receiving his award. Expressing his appreciation toward Ashkelon, Phil said, “I want to thank you, Mister Mayor, Deputy Mayor, the community center, your staff, and Helping Hand Coalition, because it’s a partnership that makes [these clinics] work, and without your permission, cooperation, or invitation, we could not have come.”
Helping Hand Coalition would like to thank Deputy Mayor Sofia Beylin and Ashkelon’s municipality for their work and collaboration in this successful clinic, the USA team for giving everything they had to serve the people of Ashkelon, and the volunteers who translated for each person. We’d also like to acknowledge the sponsors and donors who sowed into this clinic. With your help, we aided over 900 people, bringing quality to their lives and a smile to their faces, so thank you from the bottom of our hearts!