Home / Feature / A-legacy-of-resilience-and-faith


A Legacy of Resilience and Faith 


Rizy Horowitz and Frumie Cisner of Nachas Healthnet Talk About Holocaust Survivors in a Post-October 7 World 

Rayle Rubenstein 


I stopped into Boro Park’s Schick’s Manor on a breezy afternoon a couple of days after Purim to watch my husband perform alongside Shmueli Ungar. As we watched the performance, waiters served a multicourse plated meal. Many of the women clapped or nodded along with the music, and one got up and circled the room enthusiastically. 

The music was great, the singers were even better, and the energy in the room was palpable – but this was no ordinary concert. It was for Holocaust survivors. 


The event was organized by Nachas Healthnet, run by powerhouse Rizy Horowitz, her partner Frumie Cisner, and their exceptional team, and it offered me a glimpse of just what the organization offers survivors of Europe’s inferno. 


This was not my first time witnessing Nachas in action, nor is this my first time interviewing Rizy and Frumie within these pages. I am well familiar with their many channels of support, which include navigating what can be convoluted processes for obtaining reparations, healthcare, and other benefits, physical assistance in the forms of meals and visits, and above all, a listening ear, genuine care, and respect. However, in the aftermath of October 7 – a painful saga that continues six months later – it was particularly poignant to witness the gathering of survivors for an afternoon of entertainment, camaraderie, and indomitable strength in the face of adversity towards our nation, something with which they are acutely, wholly, and painfully familiar. 


Rayle Rubenstein:  The last time we spoke, things seemed to be a little bit more peaceful – at least on the surface. We did discuss Holocaust denial, but that’s so much more relevant now. 


Rizy Horowitz: It’s true. That angle is more relevant than ever. We had NBC come down here to interview eight of our survivors about anti-Semitism. It’s a long interview, a whole video, but the end is all the survivors talking about their takes on how to combat anti-Semitism. One of the most significant statements they all echo is, “If we don’t remember, it will happen again.” So much of what they are witnessing now on the news feels reminiscent of their experiences, and they feel a responsibility more than ever to talk about their past and combat Holocaust denial.


RR: How did October 7 affect the survivors you work with? 


FC: It was so depressing here. They were watching the horrors coming from October 7 and sharing those images with each other. So, I hired a few guitarists to come in and sing with them. One woman said to me, “You know, it was so good you had music today because I really didn’t want to get out of bed. I forced myself to come here and now at least I feel like I can go on.” It’s horrific that they could see the same images that they lived through. 


RR: What were the comments you were hearing? 


RH: I was in Israel for Sukkos, and when I came back, the first thing they asked me was if they needed to pack their suitcases to get ready to run. 


FC: We try to find ways to strengthen them. On Taanis Esther, when Jews from around the world recited Shema Yisrael at the same time, we sat together and said it too. The women were holding my hand tightly and crying and crying. They’re very aware of what’s going on. 


RH: A few weeks ago, we found out about a woman who does hafrashas challah at the Kosel every Thursday night. So, we got everything we needed and set up a Zoom session with her so we could do the hafrasha at the same time. 


FC: I cook Shabbos food for a few survivors, the ones who don’t have anyone, and my kids go around delivering the packages. My son came home all upset that one of the women said she doesn’t want to live anymore. I said, you know – she hasn’t come in a couple of days. So I checked on her and it was true – she said she just doesn’t want to live anymore. She’s a woman in her nineties. The news was just so upsetting, she felt she could not go on. If you want to know what we really do here, that’s it. We hold their hands and make them feel like they can go on. 


RH: That’s why these concerts are so important now. Just the fact that they see so many other survivors in the same room with them gives them a lot of emotional support. 


RR: Is that something that’s common among survivors – the sentiment that they can’t go on anymore? 


FC: I think October 7 brought a lot of that to the surface. COVID was also very triggering. They all told us they felt like they were back in the ghetto. 


RH: Since October 7, a lot of survivors feel like they have to speak out. Many of them don’t have family – Hitler took care of that – and they’re left with no one to share their stories with. So, they come here and that’s why we’re getting to hear their life sagas. 


FC: People knock on Rizy’s door all day with all kinds of requests and questions, but very often, it’s just because they just want to talk. 


RR: How have things changed in the kind of emotional support that’s needed now, 20 years after you started at Nachas? 


RH: There are a lot more home visits. A lot more phone calls. Everyone needs more reassurance. Many survivors are starting to get very depressed. They’re losing family and friends. But they never discuss it. They never ask me how someone is feeling. They just want to pretend and move on. 

FC: We try to keep it upbeat here at Nachas. It’s a very positive, happy environment and it boosts everyone’s morale. A lot of survivors come to us right after they lose their spouses. I see their faces. I see what they’re battling. And just by being part of a happy room, their moods shift. I watch it again and again, and every time I’m amazed. There was one woman who walked in here, and she was so angry. She never had children because her main artery had shrunken. With smiles, love, and care, she became the happiest person around. The last time she left her house was for one of our concerts, at the age of 102. She actually wrote a memoir about her experiences during the war. 

RH: A lot of what we do is help survivors get reparations, and it’s thanks to the Claims Conference that we are able to do that incredible work. We help them fill out applications and forms for Medicaid and food stamps. Much of our work is technical, and it’s tireless. It took me 11 years to work on one survivor’s case. I fight for them, and I don’t give up until they get what they need. But the emotional component is equally important. In the summer, we take a group for five nights and four days to a hotel in the country. When we host concerts, it makes them feel good to know that someone’s coming all the way just to sing for them. 

RR: There’s a lot of overlap between physical assistance and emotional support. 

FC: Definitely. During COVID, we sent everyone a full Pesach, including a kearah. One survivor’s daughter told me that it meant so much to her and her parents that they put the kearah – which was disposable – in the China closet as a reminder of what we did for them. She said they would have starved that Pesach. She was an older single who was taking care of her parents, and she had COVID; none of them were able to go shopping. The food we sent was crucial, but so was the feeling that they were cared for, that someone made sure they were all right. 


Now already the calls are coming in: “Are you sending Pesach food packages?” “Are you offering ready-made Pesach food?” We deliver food twice over Pesach, before the first days and before the second days. 

RH: Right before I took your call, I got a call from a woman from Teaneck who said, “My mother insists on being home in Brooklyn for Pesach, and I can’t be there with her. Make sure she has food delivered to her. Make sure she is taken care of.”  


RR: You mentioned that you help a lot of survivors who have no family at all. 

RH: Yes. Years ago, the New York Times came to interview my original group of 25 survivors, because at the time it was a new concept, this idea of survivors coming together. The reporter asked, “How many of you don’t have children because of the war?” Five people raised their hands. That’s five out of 25. That’s a huge number. So, I never ask anyone if they have children. I once made the mistake of asking a man that question and he started to cry. He said, “Mengele took care of that.”  

RR: It must take an emotional toll on you, hearing all these stories. 

RH: When I first started to hear them, I had a hard time in shul on Rosh Hashanah. It took me a long time to say the Ribbono shel Olam does everything and we have to thank Him, we just don’t understand anything, and that’s where we stand. We don’t know. We just have to do what we can, and Hashem will do the rest. It took a long time to get to that point because when you hear the horrors over and over, it’s hard to come to terms with it. 


I once asked a survivor in Yiddish where he was from, and he became hysterical. I didn’t know what I said wrong, but I apologized. He told me that the words I had used reminded him of his experiences during the death march, when a friend took a bullet for him. He was sobbing and he said, “Why did he have to die? And I got to live?” I said to him, “You have a son who’s looking for a shidduch, right? Where does he learn?” He said, “In Brisk. He’s the one who turns on the lights in the morning and shuts them at night.” I said, “Then how do you question Hashem, if you have a son who’s learning Torah like that?” He said, “You’re right. I never thought of it like that.” 


FC: You have to be very fast with the questions. You cannot cry with them. They don’t want tears with you. They want you to laugh with them and joke with them. 


RH: I gave a class recently on the power of women. The survivors loved it. They were all saying, “Uh-huh. Women are the best!” They were laughing. 


RR: That’s really one of the most powerful lessons we can take from that generation: the ability to laugh and to look beyond whatever pain is in our world. 


RH: We had soldiers here collecting for the IDF. In five minutes, we had $1000 from the survivors. I was joking that if I ask them for a dollar for pizza, I won’t get it. But someone walks in here collecting for soldiers in Eretz Yisrael and their wallets are open. They know what’s important. 


RR: Standing at your concert last week, watching all the women in the room enjoying the music and just basking in the moment, despite everything they’ve been through and everything that’s going on now, embodied that. Watching people who have gone through the most horrifying experiences and remain intact with their faith and their enjoyment of life is the greatest chizuk we can get. 


Other author's posts
Leave a Reply
Stay With Us