Great Neck resident Agota Adler, 85, has beaten hardships before, having survived the Holocaust in Hungary and then fleeing the communist regime that followed the war. She immigrated twice, to Brazil and then to New York. She eagerly signed up for her coronavirus vaccine, but last week’s snowfall and the difficulty of obtaining a ride to the hospital was resolved by young volunteers who drove Adler to her appointment. “Chaverim took me from my home to the hospital in Queens, where I was vaccinated. I did not feel any pain,” Adler said.
Better known for its free-of-charge roadside assistance, Chaverim of Queens also assists in a variety of non-emergency situations, including the delivery of food to homebound and elderly individuals.
Shabsie Saphirstein, a Chaverim dispatcher, received a call from Adler's associate on the Chaverim voter transportation hotline that was setup for the recent Special Election in City Council District 24 asking about the possibilities to arrange transport for Adler's first inoculation. This particular call line saw resounding success having been shared widely in the New York area. Eager to be of service, Saphirstein referred the call to the main Chaverim service line and monitored the request's progress to ensure Adler would arrive timely.
“She called Chaverim stating that she had a vaccine appointment scheduled during the snowstorm to hit last week but was unable to get anyone to take her,” Chaverim founder Avi Cyperstein said. “She wanted to go to the site on Friday to see if they would give her the vaccine that she was originally scheduled for earlier in the week. We all knew there was a chance that they wouldn’t give it, since she did not have an appointment for that day, but she was very anxious and so we decided to assist.”
One of the Chaverim volunteers, Aaron Namdar, is also involved with Fountain of Kindness, a Great Neck nonprofit that assists individuals in difficult situations. “We typically do not do this. We usually help out with groceries, meals for hospitalized patients, making the lives of sick children easier,” said founder Melody Zar Aziz. Her organization contacted Chaverim and they met Adler at her home early on Friday morning.
“I’m active in group chats for both organizations, so I made the connection,” Namdar said. “It made my day.”
Cyperstein drove Adler to Queens Hospital Center on 164th Street. “We joined the line, and when we got to the window we explained the situation and were informed that because she didn’t have an appointment she wouldn’t be able to get a vaccine,” he said. “This was her third attempt to get the vaccine. Immediately we asked for a supervisor and a truly amazing individual named John was there within a minute and heard our explanation.”
Adler was placed on a line for the vaccine and received it within 15 minutes. “On the way home, she exclaimed with excitement how she survived the Holocaust, lived through almost a year of the COVID pandemic, and finally got a vaccine,” Cyperstein said. “She was elated as she called her friends and family on the way to share the news.”
Adler was born in Budapest and credits her survival to legendary Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. In comparison to its neighbors, Hungary wavered in its Jewish policy during the war. The government was pro-Nazi and Jewish men were drafted into forced labor brigades, including Adler’s father, who died in the war. But there were no massacres or deportations until October 1944, when the government contemplated switching sides in the war and then Nazis took direct control of the country.
Ghettos were established, yellow stars required on all Jewish individuals, and plans were made to deport them to death camps. Adler was too young to know of the Swedish diplomat who was purchasing buildings in Budapest and placing them under his country’s protection.
“I remember I got a special piece of paper. I think it was after the war that I realized it was a Schutz Pass. We moved in with 30 other people into a small apartment,” she said in an interview with the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation. “I remember that my mother got very ill, she had pneumonia. I don’t remember how, but somehow I was able to sneak out of the building, and get a doctor and some medicine, and she got better thankfully.”
Soviet forces liberated Hungary from the Nazis in the following year, and used their presence to establish a communist government that restricted economic and religious rights. During a failed uprising in 1956, the border with Austria was open and thousands of Hungarian Jews fled to the west. She has been living in Great Neck for the past 47 years with her husband George. He died last April and was also a beneficiary of Wallenberg’s Schutz Pass.
“I’m from a Middle Eastern background, so I didn’t have any family members impacted by the Holocaust,” Namdar said. “I’ve been to Poland and participated in the March of the Living. To be 85, surviving so much and the pandemic is truly amazing. It shows that HaKadosh Baruch Hu has a plan. I’m so glad that I was able to make the connection.”
By Sergey Kadinsky