First Time Ever: U.S. Awards Millions to Aid Holocaust Survivors

WASHINGTON ( Hamodia/The Washington Post ) -

Twenty-three Jewish services organizations will receive $2.8 million to help aging Holocaust survivors, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) announced this week.

The money is part of a five-year, $12 million government initiative to provide support to survivors, and when combined with matching funds, the awards will result in more than $4.5 million for the agencies.

It is the first time in history that the U.S. government is providing money for social services specifically designated for aging Holocaust survivors.

Rabbi Avi Fishof, director of the Boro Park-based Bikur Cholim Chessed Organization, told Hamodia that its Holocaust Survivors Program received a significant amount of the grant money. The organization plans to use the grants to help train those who provide home care to aging survivors, including family members, home health aides and volunteers.

“We are very excited about being able to help those people who are working to improve the quality of the lives of survivors,” said Dr. Susan Jackson, director of Bikur Cholim’s Survivor’s program. “We have seen the need for this for a long time, but only now have the funding to make it possible.”

The funds will enable Bikur Cholim to create three initiatives. The organization will reach out to family caregivers and offer consultations with clinical psychologists to address questions and challenges that relatives caring for survivors face. A second program is designed to train home health aides and sensitize them to the unique issues involved in caring for survivors. A third will provide special training for volunteers and will be geared towards helping those in the Orthodox community, a subject on which there is very little ready curriculum material.

Funding to train caregivers has been very limited, as the Claims Conference only grants money directly to survivors themselves. Dr. Jackson said that the grants, awarded through the JFNA’s Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care, will fund the programs fully for one year and half of a second year. She was confident that once launched, the organization would be able to secure private funding to continue the initiatives.

Of the more than 100,000 survivors in the United States, almost a quarter are 85 or older, and one in four lives in poverty. Experiences during the Holocaust such as malnutrition, torture, and severe mental stress have had lasting effects, and as survivors age, they are at greater risk than the general population for poor physical and mental health, depression, and social isolation.

“They’re much frailer, both psychologically and physically,” said Todd Morgan, vice chair of the JFNA Fund for Holocaust Survivors. “They don’t have the family structure like many of us. Many lost brothers and sisters. Many live alone in a one-bedroom apartment. … These are the forgotten people.”

The U.S. government has provided money to Holocaust survivors in the past, but this is the first time the money addresses issues of aging. The funding stems from an initiative announced in 2013 by Vice President Joe Biden.

For some survivors, such acts as going to the doctor or applying for government funding can trigger a traumatic response, Morgan said. “They don’t want to come up and put their name on a list. They say, ‘They’ll round me up again; I’ll die right away.’”

A spokesperson for the JFNA told Hamodia that grant money will be used for programs such as staff training; cultural competency training for health-care workers; financial, legal, and mental-health professionals; caregiving training and companion care.

Other initiatives, the spokesperson said, would include appointing a special envoy at the Department of Health and Human Services to act as a liaison for Holocaust survivors and the nonprofit community organizations that serve them, and exploring private partnerships to address funding shortfalls in service to Holocaust survivors.