A Life of Resilience—An Inspiration for All

Connections to Care Mobile Hero
Home / News & Events / Newsletter / A Life of Resilience—An Inspiration for All

A Life of Resilience—An Inspiration for All

Dec 7, 2022

Katherina "Katy" Schaffer knows what it means to face extraordinary odds. But she has also experienced, first-hand, the triumph of perseverance. Over the course of her 97 years, Katy has faced unimaginable challenges, including time spent in three Nazi concentration camps. Through them all, she has proven time and again she has the strength of spirit to carry on—and, above all else, that she is a true survivor.

A resident of Los Angeles Jewish Health's Grancell Village for the past year, Katy's story starts in 1925, in pre-war Czechoslovakia. One of six siblings, at the age of 19 she traveled to a neighboring town to become an apprentice seamstress. As Europe fell under the cloud of Nazi threat, her parents sent word that she should return home. On her way back, at a train station in the company of her older sister, Katy was abducted by the Germans. So began an odyssey that would subject her to the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust and leave her at death's door.

"When my mom was liberated, in 1945, she remembers airplanes dropping little bags of cheese and bread. Some people she knew in the camps, who were on the brink of starvation, ate so much that they died—their systems couldn't handle all that sustenance at once," says Katy's daughter, Erit Siegal. "Fortunately, she restrained herself, and she eventually made it to a hospital, where she recuperated for a long time."

After she was liberated, Katy traveled to her native Czechoslovakia, only to find that, aside from two sisters and a brother, her entire family had perished in the Holocaust. She and her siblings eventually emigrated to Israel, where she met her husband Otto and gave birth to Erit. By then, one sister had moved again—this time, to Los Angeles—and Katy and Otto decided to join her.

Katy and her family—which soon expanded to include a son, George—thrived in Southern California. Otto worked in the garment industry; Katy was a homemaker who cooked, sewed clothing, and provided a warm and loving environment for her children in the house they purchased in the San Fernando Valley in 1963. Despite the hardships she had endured, she found fulfillment and success.

"I always tell people to learn from their parents and neighbors, to follow Jewish values, to help the poor, and to be a mensch," she says.

Husband Otto passed away in 2011; Katy stayed in their home for another decade or so. Among the hobbies she took up during this period was volunteering for seven years at Los Angeles Jewish Health (LAJH), in the Arts and Crafts Room on the Eisenberg Village campus. "I've always felt that, wherever I can help, I help," she says. "Giving back to LAJH was a way for me to contribute."

Katy came to Los Angeles Jewish Health as a resident via our short-term rehabilitation program after falling and fracturing her spine. While in rehab, the vascular disease she had in her leg progressed, ultimately resulting in the amputation of her leg. She moved into Los Angeles Jewish Home full-time just over 12 months ago.

"Mom has always been incredibly active, and losing her leg was so traumatic," Erit recalls. "But it's kind of miraculous how she's adapted and adjusted. I think her experience in the war contributed to her being able to deal with her current situation—these survivors have something special in them that has enabled them to carry on."

Today, Katy keeps her mind and body active and agile through knitting, doing word searches, and reading. Already during her brief tenure at LAJH, she has developed a reputation for her trademark resilience and positive energy. "Katy is an extraordinary person, and it's an honor to have her residing here at Los Angeles Jewish Health," says Rabbi Karen Bender, LAJH's chief mission officer. "She never allowed the atrocities she witnessed and experienced during the Shoah to interfere with her ability to embrace life, and it's no wonder all of the staff adore her. I personally love spending time with Katy. Her smile inspires me!"

For her part, Katy is grateful for the blessings of family and the benefits of living at Los Angeles Jewish Health. "My children and four grandchildren keep me going," she says. "And I appreciate LAJH: I like the kosher food, I've made friends with my roommate, and Dr. Marco and my nurses are right here to help take care of me. I love it here—other places are just not the same!"

Sign up for the LAJHealth Newsletter, Connections.

Recent Articles

Apr 2

My Mission to Israel

by Rabbi Ronald Goldberg This story is a first-person account by Rabbi Ronald Goldberg, of our Eisenberg Village Campus of Los Angeles Jewish Health, regarding his recent trip to Israel. As has been the case for all of us, the devastating October 7th attack by Hamas on Israel, and the suffering and struggles of our brethren there, are heavy on my heart. From being a non-citizen volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces (צה”ל-TZHAL-IDF), to marrying a wonderful Israeli woman, to my year of rabbinic studies in Jerusalem, Israel has always been in my heart and thoughts and prayers. When the opportunity arose in early December 2023 to take part in a volunteer mission to Israel, I didn’t walk – I ran to sign up, with my wife’s blessing. We both knew the work would be hard and emotional. Going into the program, the IDF required a signed waiver stating that I knew I was entering a closed military zone with active conflict and that the army could not be responsible for my safety. Without hesitation, I signed on the dotted line. The mission took me to the region of Israel known as the Gaza Envelope, so called because it was in range of attack from Gaza. There I was blessed to do a variety of tasks. Some were mundane, like harvesting oranges on a kibbutz ravaged by the October 7th attack. Others were more emotional, such as working in an army rest camp just outside of Gaza and interacting as rabbi with soldiers fresh out of the territory. I gave them space to share their fears and hopes, I served them sandwiches and beverages, and I blessed them. At Sheba Hospital-Tel HaShomer, I did rotations with grievously wounded soldiers, hearing their stories, helping them face their fears, and blessing them and their loved ones. In programs at Fountainview, I’ve described all these things in detail. I’m also always happy to discuss them again in person. But a message I want to share today here is about a slogan you see all over Israel – on bus benches, on the sides of buildings, and on the lower corner of TV screens during broadcasts. The message is ביחד ננצח : Together we will triumph. This is the overwhelming feeling you get all over Israel. Not despair or defeat, but a sense of everyone being all together – a sense that, as one, the nation will succeed in its endeavor to keep its citizens safe. That, despite the efforts of those who murder young people at a music festival, Israel will live, Israel will prosper, and yes, Israel will dance and sing again. It’s not about triumph in battle, it’s about showing that evil will never drown out joy, never drown out love and caring, and that, just as we danced and sang on October 6th, so, too, we will dance and sing again today, tomorrow, and indeed עד עולם –forever. This was my takeaway from the trip: We should never ever forget that עם ישראל חי – the People Israel yet live. Rabbi Ronald Goldberg Volunteer Mission to Israel
Read More
Apr 2

Purim is Celebrated at Los Angeles Jewish Health

Since the time of Purim last year, many disturbing worldwide events have occurred causing pain, anguish and heartache. We began the year in disbelief that a war continued to rage across Ukraine. While we prayed for a peaceful resolution, the unimaginable occurred as the entire world witnessed an innocent music festival in Israel turned into the site of a deadly and evil atrocity. During the following days, through the media we saw men, women and children ripped from the safety of their homes and thrust into a darkness that continues with no certain end ahead. During times that feel so dire, why do we insist on carrying on with a lighthearted festival where people dress up in silly costumes, sing funny songs, and act out the reading of the Megillah, often adapting it to the tune of more contemporary music? The answer is because it is more important than ever to carry out these customs, indeed to celebrate them! We must first understand that the meaning of Purim is to celebrate the fact that Jews overcame the possibility of being destroyed at the hands of an evil entity. That by being strong and resolute no matter what, by standing up for what they believed, together they conquered evil so that there could be peace for all. Then, we see that there has perhaps never been a year more important to pray, hope and speak up, but also to celebrate what it means to be Jewish and to stand together in the unwavering belief that once again, we can overcome for a brighter tomorrow. Resident Purim spiel at Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Medical Center Newman Building reads from the Book of Ester Goldenberg-Ziman resident dressed up for Purim Purim party at Fountainview at Eisenberg Village Purim reading at Fountainview Gonda Westside Annual staff Purim spiel performed for Grancell Village
Read More
Mar 22

Eisenhower Health Working with Los Angeles Jewish Health to Offer Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) for Coachella Valley Seniors

Rancho Mirage, CA (March 22, 2024) — Made possible through generous philanthropic support, Eisenhower Health has purchased the Neuro Vitality Center (formerly the Stroke Recovery Center). In partnership with Los Angeles Jewish Health (LAJHealth), Eisenhower will provide a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) at the former Neuro Vitality Center location. After a renovation, the site is expected to open with a new name and focus in the next 12 to 18 months. “Eisenhower Health is committed to addressing the long-term health care needs for low-income seniors through this new Center and PACE program,” says Martin Massiello, President and Chief Executive Officer, Eisenhower Health. “We are incredibly grateful for the support of our generous donors which will aid in serving the area’s most vulnerable residents.” “Having served neurologically challenged and chronically ill members of the community for over 46 years, the Neuro Vitality Center (Stroke Recovery Center) is pleased to turn the reins over to Eisenhower to expand treatment to this vulnerable population in need,” says Beverly Greer, Chief Executive Officer, Neuro Vitality Center. “Increased access and more services will only serve to enhance the quality of life and health for patients well into the future.” “Los Angeles Jewish Health is delighted to partner with Eisenhower Health in bringing our world-class PACE program, entitled the Brandman Centers for Senior Care, to residents of the Coachella Valley,” remarks Dale Surowitz, President and Chief Executive Officer, Los Angeles Jewish Health. “We look forward to working with the organization to meet the needs of the community’s high-risk seniors, while helping to improve the health of the broader community.” PACE provides not only medical care and nutritious meals but also fun activities, exercise, parties, and the opportunity to socialize and make friends, erasing the isolation so common among many of today’s seniors. LAJHealth’s PACE receives approval and oversight from both the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the California Department of Health Care Services’ (CDHCS) Integrated Systems of Care Division. Los Angeles Jewish Health’s PACE is a member of the National PACE Association and CalPACE. Founded in 1912, Los Angeles Jewish Health is the largest non-profit, single-source provider of comprehensive senior healthcare services in the Los Angeles area, serving nearly 4,000 people each year. At Los Angeles Jewish Health, thousands of seniors benefit from community-based and in-residence care and services. Programs include independent living; assisted living; senior behavioral health; short-term rehabilitation; skilled nursing; PACE; hospice and palliative care; and geriatric health and memory care. Los Angeles Jewish Health is also home to the Annenberg School of Nursing. Eisenhower Health is a not-for-profit, comprehensive health care institution that includes the 437-bed Eisenhower Hospital, the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center at Eisenhower and the Annenberg Center for Health Sciences at Eisenhower. Eisenhower is renowned for its Centers of Excellence in Orthopedics, Cardiovascular, Neuroscience and Oncology. Situated on 106 acres in Rancho Mirage, and with outpatient clinics across the valley, Eisenhower Health has provided a full range of quality medical and educational services for more than 50 years for residents and visitors to the greater Coachella Valley. Eisenhower has twice earned ANCC Magnet Recognition® for professionalism in nursing and excellence in patient care. The first accredited teaching hospital in the valley, Eisenhower trains physician residents in Internal Medicine, Family Medicine and Emergency Medicine and offers several fellowships. For more information, visit EisenhowerHealth.org or follow Eisenhower Health on social media.
Read More