By Cherie Aviv
Jane is in her mid-80s and is a survivor of Auschwitz. Her current situation is difficult. She lives with her daughter, Leigh, her only family member. Leigh works full time, which is a problem because Jane has dementia and cannot be left alone.
Through a program at Jewish Family & Career Services, Jane receives funds to provide coverage for the maximum allowed — 25 hours of home care a week. While 25 hours per week seems like a lot, Jane (like many others) needs much more.
The funds Jane receives are provided by the Claims Conference established by Germany, which set this cap. The Claims Conference, founded in 1951, allocates German government funds to Holocaust survivors in need throughout the world for suffering and losses resulting from Nazi persecution.
The Claims Conference makes some direct reparations to survivors and funnels others through agencies. But the amount it gives is not enough.
When I heard about this situation and similar ones for Holocaust survivors in our community, I felt an overwhelming responsibility to do something. I knew survivors were getting some assistance, but I was surprised when I learned the needs far exceeded the funds available. I knew the time to act was now.
Spearheaded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, we assembled a Holocaust forum assessment committee composed of representatives from partner agencies and community volunteers. The result was a recommendation to address the shortfall in allocations to care for Holocaust survivors in an outreach effort called the Holocaust Survivor Support Fund.
The community formed an advisory committee consisting of partner representatives from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, JF&CS, Jewish Home Life Communities, the Breman Museum, the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, Eternal Life-Hemshech and 14 community volunteers.
Federation’s Holocaust Survivor Support Fund initiative kicked off in September with a clear focus on raising funds to meet the needs for survivors. The estimated shortfall to meet these needs each year is $500,000, or $2.5 million the next five years.
The money raised will be put into a spend-down fund. As pledges are paid, dollars will be distributed to agencies through a formal process.
In Atlanta, 212 survivors have been identified. Of those, about 130 receive social programming, reparation assistance, case management or financial assistance through JF&CS each year. Of that group, approximately 80 get financial assistance, and of these, 38 percent have income at or below the federal poverty level.
“Many survivors feel compelled to tell their stories and ensure Nazi atrocities never again occur,” said Aaron Berger, the executive director of the Breman Museum. “However, telling their stories takes a toll physically, emotionally and psychologically on this aging population. We are extremely pleased that this consortium, under the leadership of Cherie Aviv, with support from JFGA, is addressing such a pressing and important need.”
“In 2016, JF&CS received $687,000 in Claims Conference dollars, and for 2015 it was $589,000,” said Amy Neuman, the manager of Holocaust services for JF&CS. “We did get an increase, and it seems like a large amount, yet it is not enough, especially in light of the fact that we had an all-time-high new enrollment in 2015 of 25 survivors. The existing funds are insufficient to meet the growing needs associated with all of these services due to aging survivors.”
Many clients are older than 90. The projected annual cost for the unmet needs is $400,000, based on requests received in 2015.
The HSSF initiative has clearly resonated with members of the community. It has raised more than $1.06 million from more than 140 donors, including 11 foundations, as of mid-April.
HSSF has distributed nearly $50,000 to cover assisted living support, prescription drug support, medical bills, home-delivered meals and emergency assistance based on requests received through February.
“Our community has really stepped up in support of this effort,” said Howard Feinsand, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta board chair. “It was clear that we needed to do something to address these unmet needs, and I’m glad we could serve as convener for the local Jewish agencies in our community.”
Contributing to this success has been the collaboration among the partner agencies in coordinating services and meeting social needs. For example, without Federation’s support and ability to convene all of the pertinent agencies, this critical need would not be getting the attention and outpouring of support that it has received.
The Marcus JCC and Hemshech together organized Supper With Survivors, a dinner for young adults and survivors. The Breman offers free event tickets to survivors and creates intergenerational opportunities for teens and the survivor community to get together. JF&CS and Jewish Home Life Communities are working together to identify joint referral and care opportunities.
Jewish Federations of North America launched the Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care, known as The Center, and is responsible for the distribution of federal funds. JF&CS was one of 23 Jewish service organizations nationwide to receive funding from this program through a request for proposal process.
JF&CS, with matching funds from HSSF, was awarded $176,000 from The Center over two years to aid aging Holocaust survivors. The Center will provide $99,000, of which $60,000 is from federal funds. The HSSF initiative will provide $66,000, and JF&CS will fund $11,000.
“For years, JF&CS has been proud to provide services to survivors as the needs of aging survivors grow,” said Rick Aranson, the CEO of JF&CS. “Our partnership role with HSSF to address the unmet needs is stellar and allows us to bring the very best results to a special and deserving population.”
In reflecting on this effort, I am proud of our community for stepping up to care for survivors. The response has been amazing, and I am truly humbled by it. The HSSF initiative is already having an impact, and I am pleased about the difference we are making.
If you would like to learn more about the Holocaust Survivor Support Fund, be part of this community effort or make a contribution, please call Susan Moray at 404-870-7690, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit JewishAtlanta.org/holocaustsurvivorsupportfund.