A Unique Program with a Unique History – Prague, Czech Republic
It has been just two years since a new project called Hagibor was initiated, once again making Hagibor a place of great importance for the Jewish community of Prague. Today the main purpose of the Hagibor Social Care Facility in Prague is to provide a wide range of social services for local Shoah survivors, but its old walls hold many incredible stories of strength and resilience.
This location and its surroundings have a long history with the Jewish community. The building was first used as a nursing home in 1911 and later focused on nursing care for the elderly, remaining in operation until 1943. The cost of both of these services was covered by the Jewish community of Prague and by private donors.
In 1914 a Jewish sports club was founded and it sponsored various sports organizations. Club Hagibor became very famous for its wide range of sport events, and part of the international Maccabi sports association later on. There were also some social and cultural events organized by Hagibor. The entire area was named after the large sport playgrounds, which were built here after 1926. Hagibor became known internationally and its reputation spread amongst the sports world.
1939 heralded one of the most shocking periods of Hagibor’s history. In March 1939 the Nazis occupied Prague City and one of the worst pogroms in history begun. Most of the Jewish community of Prague did not survive. Between 1941-45 the majority of Prague’s Jews was murdered in Nazi death camps. Their names have been written on the walls of the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague, where they can still be seen today. When deportations to Nazi concentration camps began in November 1941, there were almost 40,000 Jews living in Prague, and only around 7500 people survived.
When the German army came to Prague, all the Jews were prohibited from attending normal places and Hagibor became their only safe place. Here they could meet and get involved in social, sport and cultural activities. This was especially important for the children as Hagibor was the only place in Prague they were allowed to play together. By 1944, there was no longer a safe haven and Hagibor was transformed into a work camp, where the partners from Jewish mixed marriages were forced to work under the restraint of the SS commandos. After the Second World War Hagibor became a detention camp for people of different nationalities, but mostly German.
In 1950 Hagibor was given to the State Hospital Vinohrady, which used the building until after the fall of Communism. Finally, in 1989, when restitution programs started, Hagibor became part of the long expected plan to build a new project for the community’s Jewish elderly and the community and the building were reunited in 2005. While many of Prague’s Jews had moved to Israel and other countries shortly after the Second World War, some Shoah Survivors have come back after the “Velvet Revolution” in 1989 to enjoy their senior years back in their hometown of Prague. Some of these Survivors are clients of Hagibor today.
It is one of the major tasks of modern society to talk about our history and to especially encourage the younger generation to learn about the history of the Shoah and to carry the lessons into the future. In our postmodern time it is also necessary to discuss issues about certain signs, which are used to demonstrate evil and to try and explain the difference between real symbols and insignias of manipulation and power. Symbols such as the Star of David are real and have an historical continuity. Other badges such as the Nazi swastika, symbolize the evil ideas beyond human understanding, appearing from a void in human history. Understanding our past, its stories, and its symbols can be an opportunity to think about our existence and the meaning of life. We certainly can learn a lot from Shoah survivors who went through extreme life situations and are now sharing their stories with the larger community. Hagibor is proud to be part of this interaction when the personal stories of survivors can help others to understand the real history.
The Hagibor Social Care Facility, one of the major projects of the Prague Jewish Community, was inaugurated in 2008 and it has achieved a great progress since then. The building consists of two main parts: the new one is used mainly for accommodation and nursing care, and the original one provides meals and social and cultural activities. The main goal of this project is to provide a wide range of care for Jewish senior survivors. This includes quality accommodation, nursing and social care, meals, therapeutical programs, and individual and group activites. Special emphasis is laid on an individualized caring approach to clients and on the human dignity of each of Hagibor client. Club Hagibor is a unique program that provides activities and support for its elderly clients, both in the facility and the community, to remain as independent and self-sufficient as possible. The Day Care Centre (Stationary) serves the people living in their own households or with a member of their family and provides support, programming, and extra care. Clients can attend the Centre and enjoy spending time in the company of their peers. Current capacity of our project is up to 62 clients with a variable number of people using the Club according pending the types of activities and services required.
Hagibor provides a wide range of social care activities. There are morning exercises for clients followed by a current events program. We provide musical programs, which include discussing famous composers and listening to their music, and is very popular among our clients. There is an afternoon memory training program that provides training to help aging adults maintain their memory functions. Other creative activities improve clients’ health issues and support and enhance effective communication, even in non-verbal clients. As some of our clients lived abroad for many years, they learned English and other languages. Evidence exists demonstrating it can be easier for clients to speak about their difficult times in different languages, so Hagibor also provides opportunities for regular English discussions. Some of our other activities are: socializing games in the garden, baking using some clients’ recipes, computer training, cafe club with visitors, movies and discussion, book readings, etc. We also provide physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and hydrotherapy. Our main goal is to help clients to recover from any physical injuries and support and enhance their health and well-being.
As the health conditions of elderly clients require some nursing care we have professional staff members who provide assistance with medication, walking support, hygiene, feeding, and some basic nursing. We offer long-term and short-term accommodation.
Hagibor also wants to be a place of cultural events and so we organize various classical and pop concerts, and exhibitions of pictures and photos that are open to all. We have also had some V.I.P. visits here and this has led to building further understanding, cooperation, and bridges across communities. In one instance the wife of the Israeli Ambassador came to visit and now is a regular volunteer. These events also include some interreligious dialogue. We receive a lot of help from our Czech and international volunteers, who support our clients in many practical and emotional ways.
An important aspect of Hagibor’s innovative programming is the use of modern technology, especially computers. With the generous support of the Joint Distribution Committee our elderly now have new PCs with large touchscreens. This enables clients to acquire computer skills more readily and allowed them to overcome physical challenges associated with older computers. Through emails and Skype technology, our clients enjoy communication with their families, relatives and friends from all different part of the world. For some clients this new PC facility means more frequent and quality contacts with their family members and friends.
The story of Mrs. A.S. is a poignant example of the meaning and success of our computer program. Mrs. A.S. always wanted to be in touch with her family when living in her old flat. When she moved to Hagibor she was looking for a way of remaining in contact with her family members without the large cost of long distance phone calls. Her relatives live all over the world and the cost of staying in touch by phone is prohibitive. So I introduced our new PC equipment to Mrs. A.S. and although she seemed very excited, she was naturally a little bit afraid and had some trepidation about starting. With some support Mrs. A.S. was able to create her own e-mail address. What a wonderful surprise for her when she received her first email message from her daughter living in the U.S.A. The excitement was even greater when we installed Skype technology and Mrs. A.S. was allowed to have live “visit” via webcam. Her first online visit was so impressive that she had tears in her eyes. Mrs. A.S.’s successful experience with modern technology illustrates the joy that older adults can achieve when using computers.
Another special aspect of Hagibor, which makes it really unique, is its Multi-Generational Centre. The main goal of this project is to create a warm and inviting background for the community life of three generations. Thus the range of Hagibor activities focuses on all diferent ages: for young children, their parents, and seniors. We try to encourage these generations to participate in communal activities and support them to communicate with each other. Everyone enjoys when the children from the Day Nursery Bejachad perform plays and songs for a very appreciative audience of our elderly clients. The best events usually take place around Jewish feasts, which are celebrated with all ages, bringing the spirit and joy of a real family home to Hagibor. For each Jewish festival the children prepare a show for seniors and parents. Their teachers help them prepare little dances and theatre performances and their elders provide enthusiastic appreciation. Sunday afternoons belong to traditional family educational workshops and they are related to major Jewish holidays. These activities are open to Jewish families from all around the Czech Republic and they aim to provide the families with the opportunity to meet, socialize, and spend meaningful time with other Jewish families, while at the same time getting enough information to be able to celebrate the holidays at home. Workshops, barbecues, shows, and performances are also attended by senior Hagibor clients.
The seniors really appreciate the presence of children as their voices are a pleasant kind of life-enriching noise, a constant reminder of future generations’, and add to cheerful life at Hagibor, the hope of the Jewish community in Prague. The Hagibor Magazine, a cooperative endevour between staff members and clients, helps everyone across the community share these experiences and keep up with coming events. Since 1911 Hagibor has come full circle and remains filled with life and promise for the Jewish community. It still cares for Jewish elders and is a hub of Jewish activity and we believe that Hagibor of today is the beginning of renewal and a great place of real and living Judaism, offering a wide range of services for everybody.