Marie Nahmias is a 92 year old Holocaust survivor who has fostered 52 severely disabled children, both Jews and Arabs. In honor of her service to the country, Marie was selected to light a torch at the recent Israeli Independence Day celebration in Jerusalem.
Marie was born in Tunisia, but when the country was occupied by Germany in 1942, life became very dangerous for the country’s Jewish population. Marie had to flee the Gestapo soldiers who patrolled the streets, looking for Jews. Finally she went into hiding until the country was liberated by Allied forces.
After the war, life was safer for the Jews of Tunisia, but they were still second-class citizens and faced discrimination. In the 1950’s, Marie moved to Israel, where she lived in poverty in a vast tent city with hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from the Arab world. She married and raised eight children. The family was very poor.
In 1973, Marie's son Shaul was severely wounded in the Yom Kippur war.
“My son was in a combat unit, and was wounded when he tried to rescue his commander,” Marie remembered. "He was hospitalized for a long time. I took an oath and prayed that he get well, together with all the other soldiers. I vowed that if God gives me my son back, I’d be wiling to do any mitzvah or mission that is given to me.”
Shaul recovered and became a municipal social worker. One day he called his mother and said he had a little girl who’d been abandoned and needed a home. Marie lovingly took the child into her home and, she said, “That’s how it started. She was the first.”
Marie ultimately fostered 52 children, some Jewish and others Arab, each one of them with serious physical challenges. Her daughter Ricky said, “Her message was that every person was made in the image of God, no matter their origin.”
She was chosen to light the lamp at Israel’s official Independence Day celebration this year “as a symbol of the immigrants who established Israeli society on a foundation of mutual solidarity and help to the needy, and of the thousands of foster families in Israel who opened their hearts to help children in crisis.”
As Marie stood on stage to light the lamp, the evening’s host Aviv Alush spontaneously asked her to “bless us, bless Israel.”
Marie, sitting in her wheelchair, overwhelmed with emotion, delivered a beautiful blessing: “May Israel be blessed, from all my heart, God will hear me, and the righteous [in Heaven] that it [Israel] rises ever upward, that we grow, that our soldiers don’t fall anymore - from all my heart, that the Jews and the Arabs and the Christians and the Druze, tomorrow we will all become one single hand. We are all made by God, may he give us peace, and next year, may there be another 10 million of us….”
The audience, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, gave her a standing ovation.
Marie accomplished something remarkable that night. She united all of Israel - Jews, Arabs, Christians, and Druze; the political left, right and center - in praise for this remarkable woman.
For opening her home to special-needs children with no place else to go, we honor Marie Nahmias as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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Photo credit: Jerusalem Post