Story by Cassie Schoon, Colorado and Wyoming Region, Communications Volunteer
American Red Cross International Services volunteer Robbe Sokolove believes in “Tikkun Olam,” a Hebrew phrase meaning, “To repair the world.” It’s an expression that holds special significance for Sokolove, who has worked on Restoring Family Links (RFL) cases that tell individual stories of global conflict, from families separated by the Holocaust to messages intended for recipients in Iraq and Afghanistan. In observance of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), we asked Sokolove to share her experience with RFL, her own face-to-face confrontation with anti-Semitism, and how her heritage influences her volunteer work with the Red Cross.
In the past year, Sokolove helped to reconnect an elderly Jewish couple to an ancestor in Poland, with the help of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC). The couple’s cousin was a young girl during the Holocaust and was taken into guardianship by her family’s servants. The cousin was found by the Red Cross after WWII, who located her parents in the US and successfully reunited her with her family. The couple Sokolove was working with hoped to learn more about where their cousin had lived during the Holocaust, as well as any other available details about her life in Poland. Through research and a lot of legwork, Sokolove and the ICRC were able to supply the couple with documents of their cousin’s transatlantic trip to the US, as well as an address for her home in Poland.
“It wasn’t a reunion at the airport, or anything like that,” Sokolove said. “But to this couple, it was extremely important to have this information about their history.”
Sokolove, whose own ancestors came to the US from Russia in 1899, is an active member in the Denver-area Jewish community. She experienced firsthand the lingering legacy of anti-Semitism in 2013, when the Morrison Synagogue where Sokolove was a member and community leader was vandalized with swastikas. Sokolove describes the event as a moment where her small synagogue, which had always felt safe and isolated from the greater world, felt vulnerable to hate. “It was the first time it really hit home for me personally,” she said. “I feel safe in my community, but we have to remember we are all vulnerable, whether we are big or little.”
For Sokolove, her work with International Humanitarian Law and Restoring Family Links programs is a way to help make the world a better place, despite genocides and conflicts that still divide families and create refugees. The Fourth Geneva Convention, the most recent Geneva Convention forming the foundations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), was a response to the horrors of the Holocaust, and Sokolove sees her ongoing work with IHL as having a connection with her own heritage. She calls her volunteerism her own “Tikkun Olam,” the way she herself can help repair the wrongs of the world.
“I see it as a mitzvah,” she said, “My history and my community make this work a perfect match for me.”