Local Holocaust survivors are aligning their minds and bodies through a new monthly yoga series, thanks to a generous donation to KAVOD. KAVOD is a program through Jewish Family Services that supports local Holocaust Survivors through a variety of services, case management, and socialization programs.
Svetlana Berman learned of the KAVOD program through her friend Katya Klauz, the KAVOD program coordinator. She was going through a teacher-in-training course at Body Mind & Core yoga studio in Carmel, Ind., and thought bringing the yoga practice to this group was a match made in heaven.
“I admired the people in this group, their stories and their perseverance,” Svetlana said. “I thought that it was a great cause for the community to create a program, helping Holocaust survivors in their everyday life.”
Svetlana and her husband Solomon also have a personal connection to KAVOD. Solomon's mother, Lubov Berman, was a Holocaust survivor from the Former Soviet Union. She passed away last year and in her honor, the Bermans donated $800 to help support the yoga program. The funds help support group transportation, instructor fees (if/when applicable), and the purchase of additional supplies should the class grow. They also donated an additional $240, which went to purchasing 20 “kits” containing yoga balls and stretch bands for the participants.
“It is very important for me and my wife that our kids and grandkids and all the generations to come will never forget the tragic events of the Holocaust,” Solomon said. “We want to share my mom's story, telling about her strong character that helped her not only survive, but to prevail in a very difficult circumstances. Every year there are less and less Holocaust survivors left, and we hope that this example will touch the hearts of other people in the community and they can contribute to this yoga program in the future.”
Svetlana worked with Body Mind & Core studio owner Natalie Hayden and fellow classmates in facilitating the first yoga session on a volunteer basis. Participants loved it so much, they decided to continue the series. While the first class happened at Body Mind & Core, the class now takes place monthly at the JFGI Education and Engagement Center, where KAVOD has their own meeting space. Instructors take turns teaching the classes.
Why yoga? Through Svetlana’s training course, she learned that modern yoga consists of several limbs, it is not only the sequences of poses. The word "yoga" means union in Sanskrit. It teaches to unite our emotions, thoughts, physical power into one balanced healthy human being, and be in union with the community.
“I thought they would enjoy the exercises, like learning something new and being together. Benefits of movement, breathing and mindfulness are just a few to mention,” she said.
Fellow instructor Laura Thompson helped Svetlana get the KAVOD yoga program on its feet.
“Dedicating my time to serving others is something that I haven’t done enough of throughout my life,” Thompson said. “I want to use my passion for yoga to make a positive impact on the human condition.”
While Thompson doesn’t have a personal connection to the Holocaust, she is aware of the tragic events that transpired during that time, and understands how yoga can increase the livelihood of survivors.
“Most of them live alone and only socialize with others when they are out with this group. We end every yoga class by giving each member in attendance a face, neck, and shoulder massage. Physical touch promotes human connection and healing. Through this simple act, we are showing them that they are seen, loved, and appreciated. You can see the change on their faces. The impact that this seemingly simple gesture has on their psyche. It’s truly heartwarming and I’m honored to be a part of it,” she said.
During each yoga series, the instructor demonstrates the poses, while Katya translates to those who don’t speak English. Modifications for specific health issues and a chair yoga flow are also used to cater to each participant.
Christy Rogers, who was also part of the yoga-instructor trainees group at Body Mind & Core, was happy to combine her love for yoga with her passion for helping Indianapolis’ elderly population.
“When I taught the yoga class to the KAVOD group, it gave me such pleasure to see smiles on their faces and in their eyes as they moved their bodies, chatted with one another and simply just enjoyed their time,” she said. “People are living longer which is so fortunate but we need to help them live with quality, comfort and enjoyment, and I very much believe a large part of that is being active and social.”
All of the instructors have one message. “We hope that other members of the community will continue this initiative and donate to keep this class going, perhaps naming their reasons as a dedication.”