Breaking Bread and Building Friendships

Jewish meals begin with the blessing over bread, the hamotzi, and then everyone shares the bread. Reciting the hamotzi draws attention to the privilege of having food to eat. Seven days a week, with specially braided challah eaten on Shabbat, we acknowledge how grateful we are for the core sustenance of our lives.

Ivan, a Holocaust survivor, has always felt that way.

At Auschwitz, Ivan saved his meager rations and split the food with his father. Getting caught would have meant death, but Ivan’s risk was rewarded. They both survived. And the meals that his family shared—even the most miserable ones in a concentration camp—remain powerful memories.

Today, Ivan’s family is gone. At 94 years old, the two-time widower lives alone—and eats alone. Isolation can exacerbate debilitating long-term depression and anxiety. To lessen the intensity and frequency of this re-traumatization, the Jewish Federation supports Care Circle, a volunteer socialization program that helps Holocaust survivors meet new people, establish friendships and share meals together.

Ivan now has three new friends who take turns having lunch with him. Having lunch companions has made a big difference in his mental health. “I really enjoy spending time with these ladies as they are such nice people. Having lunch dates with them has made me an emotionally happier person,” he says.

The volunteers who eat with Ivan benefit, too. Breaking bread with Ivan has added more meaning and purpose to their lives. They have gotten to know this incredible person by sharing stories and time together. In fact, they say they’re “crazy about him!”

“We understand why people say that volunteering makes you happier,” they say. “Ivan enriches our lives so much and it really makes us feel great knowing that we are helping to alleviate some of his loneliness.”

Baruch atah a-donay, elo-heinu melech ha’olam, hamotzi lechem min haaretz.

Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

In caring for our Holocaust survivors, Federation is creating the familial warmth of community. In return, the community is strengthened by knowing some of the most remarkable and resilient people in the world.

Learn more about Federation's work with Holocaust survivors through the Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care and read more stories from the people helped.