Posted by Elyse Rast
I've worked with Holocaust survivors for many years, but until I began working at JF&CS Schechter Holocaust Services (SHS), I had no idea what was happening behind closed doors. The survivors with whom I worked were always well dressed, kept lovely homes, and had appropriate medical care. They seemed to enjoy speaking to groups of children, going out for coffee, and talking about their grandchildren. Underneath that façade, however, is a group of people living in conditions that I'm embarrassed by. The statistics vary but roughly 25-50% of Holocaust survivors in the US live 200% below the poverty level. This means many are deciding between food and medicine or a gift for their grandchild and winter boots. They are heating their homes by opening the oven door and saving money by reusing toileting products, creating unhygienic situations that can lead to infections and pain.
Tablet Magazine just published an article bringing attention to the plight of survivors and a follow-up story highlighting New York agencies that are helping them. In addition to their wonderful work, JF&CS offers an array of services to Holocaust survivors and their families in Greater Boston.
Our Hakalah program is designed to provide confidential and comprehensive assistance to all victims of Nazi persecution and their families. The services vary depending on need but include home care subsidies, emergency financial assistance, advocacy, and help with community resources and Claims Conference reparations and restitutions. Even though some survivors are financially secure, others are unwilling to ask for help or show that they are in dire financial need. . People may feel there is a stigma attached to asking for help but our staff work hard to help them realize there is no reason to be embarrassed.
Due to past trauma and continued mistrust of government agencies, the majority of survivors are unwilling or unable to leave their home and move into an assisted living facility or nursing home. This may lead to feelings of loneliness or isolation as many will go several days without seeing another person. In order to help combat this problem, SHS provides a monthly social gathering that ranges from a speaker on the history of radio to a Berkeley trained, Russian-speaking musician.
We all should do our part to help survivors understand that they are not alone and that the Jewish community has not forgotten them. When we say "never forget" we need to remember that the 14-year-old boy who survived concentration camps is now an 84-year-old living in poverty. We have to remember him now as he and many others still struggle for survival.
Elyse Rast is the Manager of Outreach and Education for Schechter Holocaust Services. For the past 20 years Elyse has taught children ranging in ages from 3-18 and specializes in Holocaust education. Currently, Elyse runs Jewish teenage empowerment classes at Prozdor Hebrew High School and is working on her PhD in Education at Lesley University. Elyse has two kids and two cats and lives in Westwood.