Yael E. is a community member and was a co-host of this event.
Upon learning that nationally, approximately half of all Holocaust survivors are living below the national poverty line—including over 200 in the Washington, DC area—and that many are facing an even more dire situation with funding and assistance shortfalls this year, a small group of Jewish professionals in Washington, DC decided to do something about it. They launched The Survivor Initiative to raise funds and awareness in the community and to help the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) continue its critical 20-year old Holocaust Survivor Program. The Initiative held its inaugural event on July 5th, raising $14,000. The 170 attendees heard a survivor speak of her family’s escape from Germany after the infamous Kristallnacht of 1938 and her journey to a life as a refugee in Kenya. The community was educated about JSSA’s ongoing programs and the different ways to become personally involved beyond financial contributions.
Until now, critical social services for Holocaust survivors in need in the Washington area have been funded by grants from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, matching JSSA funds, and donations. Recently, a decrease in funding from many of these traditional revenue sources combined with a substantial increase in aging survivors applying for more intensive services has placed JSSA’s Holocaust Survivor Program in jeopardy. Due to unprecedented increases in survivor applications for services as this population nears the last few years of their life, their growing needs for basic safety net services including personal care, homemaker, health, social services, and financial assistance are currently outpacing available funding. Changing demographics, increasing frailty, the downturn in the economy, and changes in eligibility criteria for Claims Conference funding have contributed to this dire situation. This year alone, JSSA is facing a $200,000 shortfall, and this deficit is expected to grow annually for at least another 10 years.
The Survivor Initiative’s inaugural event was one of a number of community outreach efforts in what will be a continuing campaign to ensure that every Holocaust survivor in need will be afforded the necessary care. While fundraising will remain the Initiative’s top priority, the group also strives to educate and inspire the community to become personally involved through a variety of volunteering opportunities, including:
- JSSA’s Holocaust Survivor Volunteer Visitor Program: Volunteers bring a warm and engaging presence into the homes of survivors who are unable to leave or travel distances from their residence. Together, survivors and volunteers can discuss photographs, music, art, books, memories from the past, family stories, hobbies, interests – and more. Training will be held on Wednesday, July 25 from 6 – 8 pm at the Embassy Suites in Chevy Chase. Interested participants can contact Marissa Neuman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-610-8345.
- Pro Bono Legal Assistance: JSSA currently has generous legal assistance to help local survivors with documents for restitution payments made directly by the German Government.
- Interpreters: JSSA needs help translating German-language legal documents. JSSA is also looking for Russian speakers to translate for Russian-speaking survivors at JSSA events or during additional activities.
- Corporate Letter Writing Team: The Survivor Initiative will form a team to seek corporate donations of both money and necessary personal items, such as financial assistance for prescription glasses and dental hygiene needs.
- Rosh Hashana Fundraising “wish” through causes.com: Through this website, individuals can create a fundraising wish, posted through Facebook, to ask friends and family for donations to help ensure a sweet, dignified new year for survivors in need.
More information about the program and how to donate or volunteer can be found at JSSA’s website, http://www.jssa.org/holocaust-survivor-program.
The importance of JSSA’s work stretches far beyond any one segment of our community. As voiced by one recent donor: “I am glad to donate to this worthy cause. I am Armenian, and I know how important it is to help those who survived such horrific experiences. This is in memory of my grandparents who survived the Armenian Genocide. Keep up the good work!”