Feel-good stories may seem few and far between these days — but when they come along, many of us are transfixed.
Most recently, we were consumed by the Thai cave rescue. An international team of divers risked their lives to save 12 boys and their coach from an elaborate network of flooded caves. Tragically, one of the rescuers died in the planning stages, underscoring the tremendous difficulty of the rescue operation. The world watched riveted. Why? Because we were reminded that when people come together for a noble cause, the impossible becomes possible.
Closer to home — and with far more modest media coverage — another inspiring story unfolded a few weeks ago. It was the story of Bernie Igielski, a Holocaust survivor in his 90s who is an active and beloved member of Chaverim, a UJA-supported Holocaust survivor day care program at The Marion & Aaron Gural JCC on Long Island.
Bernie’s deepest wish was to thank the Jewish doctor who saved his life on four separate occasions at Auschwitz. That man, Dr. Berthold Epstein, himself a prisoner, was forced to work under the notorious Dr. Mengele.
Bernie was sick when he arrived in Auschwitz and quarantined. When the Nazis came to the hospital to send the sick to the gas chambers, Dr. Epstein pushed Bernie out the back door until they left. He saved Bernie in the same way during two additional selections. The fourth time, as Bernie stood in line for the gas chamber, Dr. Epstein told the Nazis that he was “able-bodied” and could work. And so Bernie lived.
Bernie had always desperately wanted to thank Dr. Epstein for saving his life, but had never been able to locate him. The Gural JCC worked with a research firm that was able to identify Dr. Epstein. It turned out that he had saved many others at Auschwitz, but died in Prague in 1962. It also emerged that Dr. Epstein had a nephew living in New Jersey. And so, a few weeks ago, Dr. Epstein’s nephew came to the JCC to meet Bernie for the first time, surrounded by Bernie’s family and his Holocaust survivor support group. Between hugs and tears, Bernie was at last able to thank a relative of the man who saved his life, finding some measure of peace and resolution. You can see footage of the reunion here.
Most of the amazing work of our network of nonprofits is never going to be front page news. But the work is certainly no less worthy. Feeding the hungry, caring for the elderly, or lifting up those who would otherwise feel excluded from the community — it’s all about rescuing people. A home delivered meal. A friendly visit. These are the stories of quiet heroism happening daily.
So it turns out there are feel-good stories all around us. We just have to know where to find them.