Philanthropist Mark Wilf of Livingston was appointed to lead one of two new initiatives created to meet the needs of the estimated 120,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States.
The two initiatives — one by the Jewish Federations of North America, and one by the Obama Administration — were announced just before International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27.
Wilf will chair JFNA’s new effort “to assess and communicate the needs of the Holocaust survivor programs,” and to bridge budget shortfalls.
In a parallel move, the White House appointed Aviva Sufian, a staff member at the Health Department’s Administration for Community Living, to be the special envoy for U.S. Holocaust survivor services. According to a statement issued on Jan. 24, “Her work as Special Envoy will focus on those survivors currently living in poverty, as well as those who may not be receiving services for which they are currently eligible.”
The creation of an envoy was among the provisions in the Responding to Urgent Needs of Survivors of the Holocaust (“RUSH”) Act, promoted by Jewish federations and family service agencies.
Jerry Silverman, JFNA’s president and CEO, welcomed Sufian’s appointment and said in a statement, “Ensuring that Holocaust survivors have their physical, financial, and emotional needs addressed is a top priority and an attainable goal.”
About 25 percent of Holocaust survivors in the United States live below the poverty line, as compared to about 9 percent in the total over-65 population. Researchers have also found that moving them into institutional care proves traumatic for many, and on the whole they fare better if enabled to stay in their own homes, with the necessary supports.
JFNA said Wilf will lead federation efforts to assess and communicate the needs of the Holocaust survivor programs.
Wilf, who is the son of survivors, has with his family been a major benefactor of programs in Israel and New Jersey to commemorate the Holocaust and to aid survivors.
“Personally, and for the Jewish community, I felt that it’s important that these folks be taken care of and treated with the proper dignity,” Wilf told NJ Jewish News. “I felt an obligation — and am honored — to make sure that they continue to receive the help they need over the next few years.”
He added, “Helping Holocaust survivors to live with dignity and comfort in their homes and communities is a moral imperative. After learning of the need, it is our responsibility as a community to act. Chairing this effort is a tremendous privilege. It is up to us to honor the living, the survivors of the Shoa, who enhanced the American-Jewish community with their spirit and determination and continue to teach us the most valuable lessons about humanity.
“As we honor the memory every day of the six million who perished, we must also honor the survivors.”
Wilf, a former president of the historic Jewish Federation of Central NJ, is a vice chair of the board of trustees of JFNA and currently serves on the executive board of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. He is a principal in Garden Homes Development, his family’s real estate business. Together with his older brother, Zygmunt, and cousin Leonard, he is also an owner of the Minnesota Vikings football team.
Much of the funding for survivor support services comes from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany.
As an agency that provides services to Holocaust survivors through a conference grant, Jewish Family Service of Central NJ welcomed Wilf’s appointment. Tom Beck, the agency’s executive director, said Wilf was “a natural choice” to head up the JFNA effort. “Mark and his family have been active for so many years in helping the survivor community,” he said.
Beck described the new initiatives as “a wonderful opportunity” to raise awareness of the survivors’ needs and hopefully to increase funding to meet them. He estimated that there are around 5,500 survivors in New Jersey, with about 475 in need of assistance.
Beck said, “The needs of the survivors have grown to such a degree, especially among those who are infirm and frail. They are medically needier, and they need more hours of support services.” At the same time, the cost of providing home care, in addition to other services like nutrition, transportation, and counseling, has increased.