23June

After 70 years, a Bar Mitzvah at Last

How Leon Asner celebrated his bar mitzvah


It’s a good thing Anat Granath doesn’t take “no” for an answer.

Granath, a social worker with JF&CS’ Holocaust Survivor Services program, received a call one day from someone at the William Bremen Jewish Heritage Museum asking her to visit Leon Asner. An 85-year-old survivor who recently had suffered a heart attack, Asner wouldn’t even come to his door. So she placed a bag of food there and left. But she came back. And came back again. Finally, he let her in.
That was about seven years ago. Since then, Granath has developed a relationship with Asner, who was born in Belgium.

“Leon tends to stick to himself,” Granath said. “He doesn’t come to social programs very much, but I check on him quite often, and he knows JF&CS is here to help.”

If he ever doubted it, he knew for sure when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2015. 

“We stepped in at a higher level, providing home care, meals and transportation,” she said. “We also assisted him with some of his high medical costs.” 

Following his diagnosis, Leon found himself in financial stress. After a few months, he lost his condo in the Atlanta suburbs. Jenny Gay, a geriatric care manager with JF&CS’ Aviv Older Adult Services, helped him fill out an application for Zaban Tower, which had a months-long waiting list. During that time, Asner stayed with some friends for a few months and then moved around from place to place. 

Right before Rosh Hashana 2016, a spot opened up at Zaban. Staff from JF&CS and Zaban worked together to furnish his apartment and make his new place feel like a home. Since then, Leon has been in and out of the hospital and no longer can drive. JF&CS continues to provide assistance for his medical needs, and he receives home care through The One Group, a service of Jewish Home Life Communities, which partners with JF&CS.

“If I hadn’t had all this help, I wouldn’t be alive,” said Asner. 

If that sounds like the end of the story, it isn’t. Let’s go back to Nazi-occupied Belgium, circa 1944. At 13, Asner should have become a bar mitzvah. Instead, he was in hiding, just trying to survive. Leap to 2016, and the one thing Asner wanted more than anything. 

“You’ve done so much, but there’s one more thing I want to ask you,” Granath recalled him saying. “Can you help me become a bar mitzvah? I said of course, even though I had no idea how to do it.” 

JF&CS’ community chaplain was able to help her out. After calling her contacts, Rabbi Judith Beiner connected with Rabbi Russ Shulkes, executive director of Hillels of Georgia. And on March 19, at the Marcus Hillel Center at Emory University, Asner finally became a bar mitzvah.

“In order for him to feel whole, he needed something to meet his spiritual hunger as well as his medical and financial needs,” said Granath. “And this was it. This is the thing JF&CS does best. We look at clients with a holistic approach.”

For more information about JF&CS’ Holocaust Survivor Services programs, please visit www.jfcsatl.org/holocaustsurvivors. “We want people to call us if they are survivors or know of survivors,” said Granath. “We will reach out to them.”

Posted in Aviv Older Adult Services