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Connecting through Empathy

This blog post was written by Sabiha Demirtaş, a Yahel Social Change Fellow living and working in Rishon LeZion.

People often feel empathy for things they can relate to. Sometimes we can't place certain things in our hearts, minds, and lives, and as a result, we can't grasp their importance. For me, learning about the Holocaust and the painful destiny of 6 million Jews was not like that at all. At first, I had a hard time understanding how a person could send other people, children, and the elderly to their deaths without blinking an eye just because they belonged to another religion. These people were not my grandparents or relatives, but I am human, and the pain of other humans can pierce me.

I read articles, news, watched movies, and talked to people who might teach me about the Holocaust, and more than that, the entire Jewish history. I was fascinated to see the strength and the belief in this history. The things I learned really touched my heart, and suddenly I felt like a part of this journey. I knew that I had to come to Israel to meet Holocaust survivors, listen to their stories, support them, and put a smile on their faces. I had to do it as soon as possible because it wouldn't wait for me forever, and my passion wouldn't let me waste time. Now I'm here, and my wishes have come true. I volunteer at a senior center two days a week where there are a few Holocaust survivors and lots of friends who come to spend time together every day. We talk, exchange stories, do some art, and work in the garden together. These are very special and precious memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. And the greatest gift is seeing them laughing, having fun, and socializing like their peers. They didn't give up; they are full of life and love.

This is the short story of my connection to Israel, of course, there are more reasons I could list. The connection also comes with time, and during my time in Israel, I saw that the love and care I give to people come back to me. This friendship is not one-sided. In my home country, Türkiye, we experienced a pain that was hard to bear. There was a devastating earthquake, and thousands of people lost their lives. I was here, in Israel, far away from everything. People here lifted me up, my students cheered me up, and adults stood by me. Every day people asked me how I was feeling. I feel good, I feel happy, and I am glad to be here.

Feeling the pain of others is not always easy. It's something deep from the heart, a pure feeling, and that's what is beautiful about it. I am hopeful for a world where we can listen to each other, understand each other, reach out for help, and not hesitate to ask for help. A world without discrimination, a world where every soul finds a peaceful corner for itself. Start building whatever you wish for, your footsteps will show the way to others.


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