See the emotional moment 50 Holocaust survivors finally got bar mitzvahed.

Solomon Moshe was only 4 years old when Hitler's armies invaded his home country of Greece.

He recalls spending his childhood fleeing from house to house with his mother — never having friends, never having a home, and constantly seeing the fear in his mother's eyes.

Before long, 60,000 Greek Jews would be murdered in World War II, nearly 80% of the country's Jewish population. Moshe moved to Israel in 1956 to try to start a new life.


On Monday, May 2, 2016, Moshe got to celebrate becoming a bar mitzvah, finally, at the ripe old age of 79.

Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images.

For Jewish people, the bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies are incredibly important.

Typically occurring around the age of 13, the ceremonies are holy events for friends, family, and communities that mark a coming of age in Jewish culture and a confirmation of faith. There's also usually a big party.

This week, 50 people, including Moshe, traveled to Israel to celebrate their bar and bat mitzvot. All of them are in their 70s and 80s.

All of them are Holocaust survivors.

Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images.

To be born in Europe in the 1930s meant being born into a world turned upside down. Adolf Hitler's Nazi party invaded or occupied over a dozen countries and systematically murdered an unfathomable number of people, including 6 million Jews.

Even those who survived the horror of the Holocaust had their lives taken from them in other ways — from childhoods tainted by memories of fear and despair to families permanently torn apart.

The survivors were invited to host their ceremonies at the Western Wall in Jerusalem — one of Judaism's holiest sites — by the Israeli government.

Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images.

They wrapped themselves in talits (Jewish prayer shawls) and affixed tefilin (small leather boxes containing sections of the Torah) strapped to their foreheads and arms.

They recited special prayers and read holy passages, all two days before Yom HaShoah, Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day.

As they left, Israeli soldiers gathered to pay their respects.

Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images.

"I am not embarrassed to say that I was moved to tears," recalls Moshe. "Soldiers were saluting us like we were heroes."

It's impossible to set right the wrongs of World War II.

Millions were killed, and those who survived still feel the effects of the war today. A coming-of-age ritual might seem like a small gesture, but it's a deeply significant one.

Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images.

During the war, being Jewish was a crime punishable by death. Millions of families had to hide and suppress their faith for fear of being persecuted and sent away.

For these survivors, being able to become a bar or bat mitzvah now isn't just a gesture of kindness or a ceremony of faith. It's an act of healing.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When you wake up to Khloe Kardashian's unedited photo debacle making headlines, it's not hard to see why so many women have body and beauty complexes.

Even for those of us who roll our eyes at Kardashian drama, the struggle is real. Even when we know that the images on Instagram are filtered and edited to unrealistic perfection. Even when we understand that societal beauty standards are arbitrary and stupid. Even with the proliferation of body-positive messages that encourage us to love the skin we're in, most women I know wage some kind of internal daily battle over beauty.

If only it were as simple as embracing what we look like in our natural state. If we truly and fully did that, though, we'd be smelly and unkempt, hair matted, nails scraggly, and teeth rotting. There's a certain amount of grooming that's reasonable to expect in civilized society, but what's enough and what's too much? At what point does beautification become problematic? There's no definitive line.

Then there's "health and fitness," which is good on the one hand, but toxic on the other. I could write an entire book on the social politics of fat on women's bodies. Follow that up with the make-up, the hair coloring/curling/straightening/styling, the wrinkle creams, the injections, and gracious, I'm already feeling mixed up inside barely 200 words into talking about women and beauty.

Writer and video blogger Mary Katherine Backstrom described these internal struggles women experience perfectly in a Facebook post. Sharing a photo of herself biting into a bologna sandwich, Backstrom wrote:

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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