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Special Delivery: Letters of Hope

Have you ever listened to someone's life story 
and been left speechless? 
Been so amazed by their courage 
and resilience that you are humbled to your core?

Almost fifteen years ago I went to visit my great grandmother
(who was 99 years old)
in the building she lived in 
in Downtown Phoenix, Arizona. 
I was just a young girl, 
who saw only the good in the world 
and my heart was full of hope for the future. 
On that day, my grandmother introduced me to a friend of hers-
Shirley Lebovitz. 

Shirley was older, like my grandmother,
and yet it seemed to me that every wrinkle on her face
was made from the massive smile that overtook it as she spoke. 
She was such a happy person,
and as a child, 
her happiness was contagious to me.

Later Shirley would introduce me to her daughter, 
Magda Willinger, who was also older 
and who I almost immediately began to think of as my adopted grandmother. 
At the time, 
I played with Magda,
laughed with Magda, 
 ate dinners with Magda, 
but it was several years 
before Magda personally told me her story. 
(Magda and I at my Great Grandmother's 100th birthday party - I was dressed in a traditional Swedish folk costume per my Great Grandmother's request.)

Shirley and Magda had an exceptionally strong bond.
It had come from a lifetime of living and loving and overcoming. 
You see, they were refugees and survivors of the Holocaust. 
They were the only two in their immediate family to survive 
the nightmarish death camp, Auschwitz. 

I remember Magda looking me in the eyes once as she spoke about her time there
(she had been fourteen years old)
and she said, 
"They told you to step forward out of the line if you looked too sick or weak to work.
That was it for you. You would die. 
But my mother saved my life and risked her own life several times
by pulling me back into the line when the guards weren't looking. 
My mother saved my life."
She repeated that last line.

I was stunned. 
Magda was not simply my adopted grandmother anymore. 
Suddenly her life had opened up my childish mind 
to the darkness that can exist 
and the humanity in herself, her mother, and others 
that could conquer that darkness in the most horrifying of times. 

I found myself hanging on Magda's every word. 
When she would go to speak to high school students,
I was there to listen as often as possible. 
When she would go to speak at the 
Holocaust Convention for Educators each year, 
I was there. 
I read, several times,  the book that she had helped her mother write.
I was in awe. 

Magda's life story
and her unending courage 
taught me more deeply about myself than any history class ever had. 
I knew from the moment I learned of her story 
that for the rest of my life I would be responsible for acting. 

When people talk about the hatred and the evil that caused World War II, 
they often say, 
"We just didn't know what to do,"
"We didn't know what was going on."

The responsibility that I accepted as I learned Magda's story
and was privileged to love her
was that I would act as a force for good. 
I would not let history repeat itself within the realm of my personal reach. 
I would put aside the differences of religion, skin color, and lifestyle
that an evil man had used to divide the world
and I would choose to love and hope instead. 
I would not sit with my hands out waiting for those in need of comfort 
to find me. 
I would seek them out. 
I would seek to to have the wrinkles that will someday cover my face,
be like Shirley's wrinkles,
all from smiling and sharing happiness. 
And I am daily working to teach my little one
the lessons that I've learned from Magda.
(Svea and Magda after lunch in January 2016)

I've striven always to act based on these convictions
and I am grateful to have learned about an organization that 
acts on them as well. 

I recently learned about CARE 
and their mission to fight global poverty 
and facilitate lasting change in communities around the world through 
delivering relief, addressing discrimination, and strengthening capacity for self help.

In 1945, a group of 22 American organizations came together
to rush lifesaving CARE packages to the survivors of World War II. 

Now, 71 years later,
the recipients of those first packages are taking compassionate action,
writing letters
and sending CARE packages to Syrian refugees who are going through similar 
life-changing struggles as they did. 
I read this story of Sajeda, a sixteen-year-old Syrian refugee,
and the hope that letters from a World War II refugee named Helga brought her.
Photo via

I found myself in tears as I thought, 
"How many times have I wanted to reach back in time
and send words of love and comfort to fourteen-year-old Magda in her darkest times?
I have ached to lift the smallest piece of that massive burden and pain
from her young shoulders because I love her."

Magda found happiness and peace in her life, 
but there are countless young refugees around the world 
who cannot see through the darkness of their indescribable situation
and have hope for the future. 

So to stand #withsyria
and to stand with Magda, 
I am writing them a letter of hope. 

I encourage you to stand up for the good in humanity and write a letter
This does not have to do with politics.
This does not have to do with your religious beliefs. 
This has to do with sharing hope and love. 
The smallest moments of your time writing a letter,
and sending a special delivery of hope to a child, 
can be more meaningful than you will ever know. 

If you'd like to, you can even send a CARE package or donation,
but at least sit down with your family
and teach your children
that they have the power to reach out into the world 
and give hope to children just like them. 
Hello Friend,  

I'm a mother from Arizona in the United States. I say I'm a mother even though I work and do lots of other things because being a mother is my very favorite job and I'm very blessed to be a mother. I don't know whose hands this letter will end up in, but I hope that you will need it. I don't know your story, but I know that your life hasn't been easy. You may be losing faith in other people right now because of how you have been treated. Can I tell you about someone very special to me?

My adopted grandmother, Madga, was a survivor of the Holocaust in World War II seventy years ago. She lived through many terrible and difficult things. She was taken from her home and her family and suffered very much, but she clung to hope. She was able to survive, find a new home, marry an incredible man, have several children and grandchildren, and find joy in her life! She reaches out to all of the people around her and shares her story because she wants to influence them to be GOOD people and to stand up for what's right. Whatever trials you are facing, just know that there are still people in the world who are caring about you and reaching out to you. There are people who you don't even know, but who want you to find happiness. Try not to give up on them! 

I know that when I am struggling, singing always helps me to feel happier. I also play games with my family to feel happy. Whatever makes you happy in hard times, turn to that and hold onto hope. You matter and you are loved.

Love Always, 
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