Tina Berkowitz, whose parents were Nazis in World War II Germany, was recently honored for her lifesaving efforts in Israel.
By: United Hatzalah and United with Israel Staff
On the eve of Yom Hashoah, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, during the commemoration ceremony held by the Regional Council of Hof HaCarmel in northen Israel, a volunteer first responder named Tina Berkovitz was awarded a citation for her continued dedication and devotion for saving the lives of her fellow Israelis.
But Tina isn’t a regular Sabra, Israeli-born Jew. The 67-year-old grandmother grew up in post World War II Germany and is the daughter of Nazis. For her, receiving the award on the eve of Yom HaShoah was an exceptionally emotional experience.
Berkovitz was born in the city of Bochum near Dusseldorf. In 1973 she began a 45-year-long career of lifesaving and working in the medical profession when she volunteered as part of the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace organization, whose aim is to confront the legacy of Nazism.
Berkovitz came to Israel as part of one of the organization’s projects and spent three months learning Hebrew before she began volunteering as an EMR and nurse’s assistant with the Red Cross.
She began her volunteering just as the Yom Kippur War broke out. “I volunteered in Shmuel Harofe Hospital that had been converted during the war to house and treat Arab POW’s,” Berkovitz recalled. “I was working as a nurse as part of the Red Cross and we had an agreement with the Nurses Union in Tel Aviv which engaged us to serve in the local hospitals. I’ve always had a passion for helping others and for the field of health and I felt this was the perfect way to help others.”
Following the war, Berkovitz was transferred from Shmuel Harofeh to Assuta in Tel Aviv. There she met former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa Rabbi Yitzchak Yedidya Frankel, who heard her story.
“Rabbi Frankel invited me to learn about Judaism, not to convert per se, but just to learn and understand it better. In the end, I converted and we learned together for a time before he found me a tutor to study with. It was just him and me in the lessons and it is because of him and his approach that I converted,” she recounted.
Berkovitz has since built a family of her own and has settled down in the Artist’s Colony of Ein Hod. She has three children and two grandchildren, most of whom live in Tel Aviv.
Berkovitz currently volunteers as a First Responder and EMT with United Hatzalah, Israel’s national community-based volunteer EMS organization.
Berkovitz is also a doula and a naturopath, and has even started an emergency medical clinic for Israeli tourists and travelers in the Goa province of India.
Serving is a Great Honor
“I’ve always felt that it is a great honor to be able to work and volunteer around the clock in a position that saves lives all the time. That is one of the things that pushes me to continually volunteer and serve my community. It is thanks to organizations such as United Hatzalah that allow and inspire me to keep helping others no matter what,” she said.
Berkovitz has also worked at the Kfar Izun psychological and drug rehab center. “I began helping the patients there with natural medicine and now it is one of the few places in the world where natural medicine and traditional medicine are used hand in hand to treat patients who are suffering psychological conditions due to drug use.”
Berkovitz praised United Hatzalah as a serving as a “home” for her.
“I come from Germany, the land that the Nazis once called home. My parents were Nazis. Here, in Israel, I get an award of recognition on the eve of Yom HaShoah, from the regional council where I live, for saving the lives of Israelis. I don’t think of this award and say to myself that now I can now sit back and relax, rather it pushes me forward to do more and to help more people and that is what I want to do,” she said. “While my parents were not happy with my choice to come to Israel and with my conversion, the one thing that they couldn’t argue about was the importance of saving lives,” she concluded.