With the passage of time, our communities have seen the number of Holocaust survivors dwindle considerably. Indeed, it has been estimated that the number of survivors still alive today across the world is probably in the low hundreds of thousands. And yet, said Tom Beck, executive director of Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, the amount of care each survivor needs has only increased.
Not only are many survivors impoverished — a Washington Post article in March estimated that one third of them live in poverty — but the problems they face as they age in some ways are unique to that group. Many of them have a range of physical and psychological problems directly attributable to their experiences during the Holocaust.
As a report on the March of the Living’s website made clear, prolonged periods of starvation, exposure to severe weather conditions with inadequate clothing, and experiencing and witnessing unspeakable atrocities take a severe toll on a person’s body and mind. And while many of those problems have been lifelong, many others surface only in old age.
JFSCNJ has been particularly responsive to the needs of survivors in Union County, and its Holocaust Services team has been providing a wide range of direct services and programs for survivors and their families for more than 30 years. Their goal, Mr. Beck said, is ensure the ability of each survivor to age in place, “with dignity, in their own homes.”
To accomplish that goal — and provide the wide range of services their clients need — JFS relies on several sources of funding. These include the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Jewish Federation of North America, the Jewish Federation of Greater Metro-West NJ, Kavod Shef, the state of New Jersey, and the Wilf Family Foundation.
Much of the funding is from the Claims Conference, and — responding to a request for additional funds from JFSCNJ — the Conference now has given the agency an additional grant of $156,000, bringing its annual contribution to nearly $2 million. In addition, the Conference has released new, relaxed criteria for eligibility for services.
Mr. Beck defined survivors not only as those who survived concentration camps but also as people who lived and suffered under Nazi occupation, including, for example, refugees from the former Soviet Union. “They definitely don’t want to go to a nursing home,” he said.
Describing his agency as “pretty big” — he oversees some 135 staff members —Mr. Beck said that not all members of the staff are involved with survivors. Nevertheless, through the efforts of the social workers, nurses, and home health aides working with the Holocaust department, “we do everything we can to keep survivors out of a nursing home setting.”
Debbie Rosenwein, who heads the Holocaust Services team, said her group includes three full-time social workers, who work closely with the nursing department. “Our survivors have nurses assigned to them,” she said; the nurses see each survivor on a monthly basis but are available at other times should the need arise. The 130 survivors the agency serves also are matched with homecare workers, who receive training in order to become certified home health aides.
“We really needed more dollars for homecare,” Ms. Rosenwein said. “With all they have endured, it’s wonderful that survivors can get a basket of services.”
Claims Conference funds enable survivors to live independently in their homes, Mr. Beck said. “They pay for medical equipment, home repair — everything that’s necessary to keep people in their homes.” The additional funds will be used to “fill in the gaps” for people who need additional homecare. “We’re very grateful because we’re always trying to advocate for survivors,” he said. “There are needs to be met,” and the funds go into direct services.
Services offered to survivors include emergency financial assistance, help with food shopping, door-to-door transportation, and supportive counseling and case management services to ensure that survivors’ physical and emotional needs are both being met. “We’ve developed some expertise in dealing with the trauma that survivors experienced,” Mr. Beck said.
“Survivors are living longer,” Ms. Rosenwein said, noting the need for increased financial assistance. “It’s been a difficult year, with prolonged isolation, loneliness, and uncertainty.” Financial assistance can help to pay for anything from walkers and wheelchairs to PSEG bills.
Citing additional resources, Ms. Rosenwein said, “Our Holocaust survivors benefit from Uniper technology, enabling them to make international telephone calls, enjoy interactive engagement programs, and a wide variety of virtual library programs.” These include, among others, virtual garden therapy, chair yoga, and the Yiddish knitting club.
“That stems from something pre-covid, when a group of women would come in, bring lunch, and knit and talk. Everyone knew them and would welcome them,” she said. “There’s also Kosher Meals on Wheels, housekeeping assistance, and caregiver support services.” And Café Europa continued during the pandemic, meeting twice a month.
According to a statement from the agency, the team’s work has been recognized internationally; it’s made presentations about its innovative programs at many conferences in Boston, Chicago, and New York.
“Speaking for all the social workers, we’re honored to work with this incredible, resilient population,” Ms. Rosenwein said. “We learn so much from them.”
Mr. Beck is hopeful that more survivors will learn about JFSCNJ services and apply to the agency for assistance. “There are some survivors in Union County who don’t know about our services,” he said. “We want to get the word out, beef up our existing services, and bring in new clients.” He pointed out that the agency’s social workers can assist potential claimants with the Claims Conference eligibility application process.
For more information, or to talk to a social worker in JFSCNJ’s Holocaust department, call (908) 352-8375 or email Debbie Rosenwein at email@example.com