About a dozen released IDF soldiers arrived at the Gil Oz retirement home in Petah Tikva to light the first candle with holocaust survivors.
Bila Lutstein, a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor, said: "I'm happy about the new friends that came to celebrate the holiday with us. It's fun to get out of a routine and hold an event to light the candles. It still excites me very year anew, to celebrate the holiday in Israel and to feel the sense of Zionism and belonging."
Shkolnik Z'non, a 79-year-old Holocaust survivor from Poland who survived the Holocaust by first escaping to Siberia and later hid in a forest in Ukraine, said: "I feel amazing and proud to light the first candle of Hanukkah. It is an amazing opportunity to be happy together and it is very comforting to see this young group and feel the holiday spirit that they bring with them."
"It's very emotional to celebrate here with the survivors," said Elchi Malichi, 25, a civil engineering student. "I feel the need to donate to them as much as possible and give them the respect that they deserve. At the end of the day we are here thanks to them and are continuing their path."
Malichi, who served as a fighter and commander in the Shimshon Battalion of the Kfir Brigade, said that "On a day-to-day basis I don't get to meet these people and unfortunately for us it will become rarer as more and more survivors pass away. I'm happy to have been given this opportunity to light the first candle of Hanukah with survivors, to provide them with love and warmth and to recognize them for what they went through and persevered in the name of the Jewish nation. It is an empowering experience and something I will never forget."
The released IDF soldiers brought Menorahs, candles, and sufganyot (jelly doughnuts) to the homes of the survivors, with at least two scholarship recipients arriving at each home.
The released soldiers who are a part of the scholarship fund also conducted Hanukkah parties at about 50 retirement homes all over Israel that house Holocaust survivors.
Orit Margolis, 26, who served in the combat support of the Engineering Corps, said that she feels a sense of duty. "It's a special opportunity to meet with people who survived despite the impossible reality they experienced and it warms my heart to visit survivors and to learn from them," said Margolis, who is an accounting student.
Margolis added that the younger generation bears the responsibility to "remember and pass on the stories of the survivors to the next generation, who will not have the honor to meet the generation of holocaust survivors personally."
The CEO of the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims, Rony Kalinsky, explained that "several Holocaust survivors have suffered feelings of loneliness and hardship for many years, feelings that are likely to heighten during holiday season. The initiative enables the survivors to experience and celebrate the holiday of miracles with a big group."