by Pat Franklin Imagine an old people's home where many of the staff are unpaid volunteers from around the world, where the residents speak several languages, where it is not unusual for some to be celebrating the publication of their latest book, and where many of them each day are washed, dressed and gathered downstairs by 7:30am for a devotional Bible study.
Too good to be true? Well, it is true, and this amazing residential home is Ebenezer in Haifa, Israel, possibly the happiest old people's home in the world. It has been my great privilege to get to know some of the staff and residents of Ebenezer , a Hebrew word which means 'Stone of Helping'.
My conception of an old folks' home has always been of a place to be dreaded, where the elderly were just hanging on until they died. This does not describe Ebenezer at all! There is such life about the place, not an air of death and decay, but of vibrancy and fruitfulness.
The elderly residents have not given up. They are not despondent; they have not despaired. They are praying, praising God, studying, learning, and even writing books! And while the world outside may be locked in mortal combat, they are Jews and Arabs together, living in peace and harmony under one roof.
While some of the residents are Arab, most are Jewish, and they come from all over Europe, speaking various languages. There is a German, a Czech, a Norwegian, one from England. Everyone seems to speak at least three languages, and about half have also learned Hebrew, the official language of Israel.
The day for many of the residents starts at 7:30am when many of them gather in a large, light room for a 30 minute Bible study . Some are in wheelchairs, but everyone is washed and dressed, ready with their Bibles, and residents are handing out hymnbooks. You have to open the books from the back, because they are in Hebrew, with the English, German or Romanian printed alongside.
First the assembly sings a hymn, and never mind the different languages being sung all at once. God can hear those words of thanks and praise just fine; after all, He invented all the languages! I think it must give Him great pleasure.
The devotional is led by different people each day on a rota basis. Some come in from outside, and some are staff at the home. One, Heinz Pollock (94), is a resident, and gave an interesting teaching from the book of Hebrews. They are all mature Christians of proven ability and worth and I wish those half hour sessions were taped so they would get a wider audience. The leader speaks first in Hebrew, then translates into English. Sometimes Tznua, a resident, translates.
The days I was there, I heard two Arab and three Jewish men give thought-provoking teachings. The devotional finishes with a prayer, and the group then moves into the dining room for breakfast. This is a tasty blend of east and west, with not only eggs and cereal (no bacon - this is Israel!), but a Middle East selection of soft cheeses, salad, and fruit. Then the residents retire to their rooms, or gather in small groups, attend the craft sessions, go for walks around their beautiful city, or get down to studying and writing.
Lunch is an inspiring experience, because when everyone is seated, instead of saying grace, they all break into a Hebrew song of praise! And when lunch is finished, they sing again to thank the Lord, the God of Israel, for His provision. This full-throated thanksgiving just thrilled my heart, so I can imagine the delight of our Father as those choruses reverberate all the way to the very throne room of Heaven.
Not every resident is a believer, but those who are are not afraid to lift their voices in songs of praise. I would like to introduce you to one resident (81), a nurse midwife whose eyes are as bright as her mind. She came to Israel as a young nurse and gave her life to the nation because of her love for the Jewish people. She did not know anything much about the Jews, but as a teenager God spoke to her from the scriptures. 'Go not to the heathen, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' (Matthew 10:6).
She took that to heart and did as she was bidden. 'I have been happy and that is a wonderful thing,' she said. 'I love Israel. I didn't know anything about the Jewish people, but the love for them came when God gave me that scripture.' She carries on her face a souvenir of war. On one Sunday during the war she was washing dishes after lunch when a bomb hit their home. Their house was destroyed, but the family survived. My friend had many wounds on her face and back, but they healed in hospital and she was left with only one scar on her forehead.' God kept us all,' she said.
They had lost everything but their lives, so their church collected some clothing and brought it to the hospital. 'The clothes did not fit very well, so when we saw each other we started to laugh, and the Lord healed us with laughter,' she said. Now her day starts with praise and ends with prayer, as each evening she and a few of the other ladies gather in her room for an hour's Bible study and prayer. They read a chapter from the Bible, then discuss it and then get down to prayer. With such a life of faithfulness, no wonder she can say she is happy!
Another happy resident of Ebenezer is Thea (83), who also served Israel as a nurse. Her family got out of Germany as soon as Hitler was elected in 1933, so Thea was raised in England and was eventually given a choice, to go into the Land Army or nursing. She chose nursing because she could see no future in the Land Army.
How right she was. Her skills as a district nurse were badly needed, first in London and then in Israel.
If you visit Ebenezer, you may well encounter Miyassar in the lift or in the hallway, and if you do meet her, you will undoubtedly be invited to sample strong, sweet Turkish coffee in her neat room. An Arab nurse, Miyassar loves her coffee and loves to give hospitality to friends of the home. I liked Miyassar very much, but the coffee, um, I think I'll stick with filter.
I found another 'coffee buddy' in the home - resident Edith (87), who is studying her sixth language, Turkish. A Hungarian Jew who grew up in Czechoslovakia, Edith is famous in her homeland as 'Katya', her code name as a Resistance heroine in World War II. Her book about the terrible war years has been translated into five languages and the Czech title is: 'You Have No Right to Live'. 'Katya's' job as a young woman was not to fight, but to procure food for the men in her unit. 'I managed to do it,' she said. 'I always had an excuse when I was stopped and the Germans always believed my stories.'
But she had some very close calls. My visit was in November, and one day Edith told me the story of the day that she and the rest of her unit were hiding in a wood. They were betrayed, and the Germans came after them. 'We ran and ran and came to a river. It was so cold; there were blocks of ice floating. We all jumped in and swam. The Germans were shooting at us from the bank. I don't know how I survived, but I did. Today is the anniversary of that day.'
To visit Edith was to enjoy the comfortable surroundings of the Jewish home, while 'Katya' took me on a journey back into the terrible time when a madman ruled, vowing to kill every Jew. Visiting Edith-Katya was a profound experience. Edith has now moved out of the home to her own apartment.
During my visit people were congratulating yet another resident, Heinz, on the publication of his biography in German. The title is '‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness.' Wow. I wish it was in English!
Another resident bearing great fruit in old age is Motke, who completed his extensive work on a concordance and dictionary for Delitzsch's Hebrew New Testament translation last year. He received the first printed copy at Ebenezer Home as a birthday present last February. The home's newsletter noted the occasion, saying: 'We're happy the home not only functions as a place of care, but also provides the necessary environment for the residents to "still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing" (Psalms 92:14).'
The staff at the home are as amazing as the residents. The manager is Johnny, an Arab Israeli; the bookkeeper is Hannah, an American born Jewess; the reception/ office worker at the time of writing was our son-in-law Michael, a Jewish Israeli. The 'house mother' who quietly keeps a motherly eye on all the residents is Russian-Jewish Natalia. The kitchen is run mainly by Arab cooks, who do a marvellous job. Most of the nurses, nurses’ aides, kitchen staff, and cleaners are volunteers from all over the world, some working for six months, and some giving two years’ service.
Why do they leave their normal lives to go and work for free at Ebenezer? Because they know that Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, and they want to follow Him in serving others. They could be home making money, but they choose to be laying up treasure in Heaven where it will last for all eternity and where nothing will destroy it.
I met a kitchen helper from Belgium, who is there for two years with her husband. Then there was a nurse from Mexico and a nurses' aide from Sweden. They all had this in common - that they had an encounter with Jesus Christ at some stage in their lives, and He gave them hearts to serve others.
The medical staff is headed by a remarkable man, Dr Brian Pokroy. A Jewish doctor? He could be making a fortune in America! No, he is providing a valuable service to elderly residents and also holding free clinics for poor people in the neighbourhood, be they Jew or Arab or whatever. The Lord Jesus never turned anyone away, and neither does Dr Pokroy.
The best thing about Ebenezer is that most of the elderly residents know where they are going! When death does come, it is sad, yes, because they are gone; but their friends left behind at Ebenezer know that they have gone straight into the presence of their Saviour, and their life of eternal joy has begun. Those who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ know that they will see each other again, when He calls them to their true home.
Getting to know some of the people at Ebenezer was a wonderful experience. The place is like an anteroom to Heaven, the VIP departure lounge from this earth. The home is a great tribute to to the amazing grace of Almighty God, who so loves Israel that He has caused this outstanding place to be established as a refuge, a place of sanctuary.
The trouble with visiting is that there are so many fascinating people there, and their lives of service are so interesting, that there is not time enough to get to know them all, so I am sorry not to be able to make this article fuller. Still, there is another visit in the offing, God willing. Ebenezer was built in 1976, paid for and supported mainly by Christians from Scandinavia and Europe. If any reader would like to contact the home, details are: Ebenezer Home, PO Box 525, Haifa 31004, Israel. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org John’s gospel, chapter 13, verse 14: The words of the Lord Jesus: 'If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.'
You can watch a video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=PdW-g8h_5R4
or go to www.ebenezer.co.il for more about this wondrous retirement and nursing home.