Children of aging survivors face unique problems, said Paula David, keynote speaker at the upcoming JFS conference “Embracing the Past to Build the Future: A Conference for Children of Holocaust Survivors and Their Families.”
“This is the first time they’re in a situation with normal aging,” David, who has a doctorate in social service administration, told The Jewish Standard. In survivors’ families, she pointed out, “there is not much experience in caring for elders.”
“We need to support them in normal caregiving,” she said. “Their parents couldn’t teach them.”
|Dr. Paula David|
The conference – sponsored by Jewish Family Service of Bergen County in Teaneck and Jewish Family and Children’s Services of North Jersey in Wayne – will be held at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus on Sunday, Nov. 16. Co-sponsored by JF&CS of Greater Mercer County, JFS of MetroWest, and the Rockland JFS, the event will include a presentation by David called “Sixty-four Years Later: Interpreting Survival,” as well as breakout sessions on such topics as faith after the Holocaust, marrying into a survivor family, and issues of loss and hope.
David, a lecturer in the University of Toronto Masters of Social Work program, developed a Holocaust resource program during her tenure at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto. She has also created teaching modules for professional staff working with survivors of genocide.
Lisa Fedder, executive director of JFS of Bergen County, said, “Children of Holocaust survivors inherited a challenging legacy, one that has been increasingly acknowledged within the Jewish community. While every family has their distinct collective responses, and every individual reacts uniquely, second-generation Holocaust survivors have often shared some powerful reactions as a direct response to their parents’ experiences.”
“These needs are different from those for children of non-survivors,” said Leah Kaufman, executive director of JF&CS of North Jersey, noting that “there are numerous issues faced by the second generation as survivors’ caregiving needs increase. For example,” she said, “they may only trust their own kids and want them as caregivers.” She added that the resiliency of the second generation in facing these problems depends largely on how their parents handled their own challenges.
Fedder added that as the survivors age, “they are sometimes opening up to their families in much greater depth, so the second generation can better chronicle them. As the second-generation movement has grown, they have often found comfort, validation, and empowerment in a group of people with a shared ‘story.'”
David said she has found that children of survivors are “an educated, intelligent group, with many having gone into the helping professions. Much research in the field comes from children of survivors,” she said, noting that survivors were driven not just by the usual immigrant dreams of giving their children a better life but “of giving them a means to escape – a profession they could bring with them.”
Children of survivors are also driven by their “commitment to ‘never again’ and to carrying on their parents’ legacy,” she said.
Many Holocaust survivors are now in their 80s and, David said, they are the first group of genocide survivors to reach this age, although, she noted, victims of Cambodian genocide will soon be aged as well. She said that ongoing aging and early life trauma studies have revealed that war veterans are encountering problems similar to those of survivors.
“The people who fought and those who were captive are still dealing with the trauma 60 years later. The impact of aging is similar,” she said.
Kaufman pointed out that many survivors do not reach out to the community for social services. She noted, however, that “we see quite a few survivors here at CafÃ© Europa,” a social group created by her agency.
“It takes a while to build trust,” she said. “But once they realize you’re there to help, they begin to talk to you about things they’ve put on the back burner. They redirected their energies to building the future. But now there’s more time to think and memories come flooding back.”
The Nov. 16 conference, however, is targeted to the second generation, “helping them identify their needs and validating and acknowledging their experiences.”
“Whether it be isolation, guilt, anger, or numbness, the feelings can be powerful and help to shape a lifetime,” said Fedder. “But there is an equally compelling legacy of strength, of value in family, education, and responsibility for our elders.”
Ann Pogolowitz, director of senior adult services at JF&CS of North Jersey, said the conference will provide second-generation families “with a way of connecting to a vital part of their past and show them that there are many others from whom they can gain strength.”
Pogolowitz, who will co-lead a breakout session called “What We Have Gained from Our Legacy,” said the goal of the session “is to draw out participants and have them share their thoughts with their peers.”
“The focus will be on the emotional legacy,” she said. “We will look at it from a positive perspective, especially the resilience of survivors in learning how to get through difficult times.” She said, however, that she expects the “challenging parts of the legacy” will emerge as well. The group will also discuss “learning how to use one’s strengths as an individual” and talk about the importance of community involvement.
“There is a sense of community among many” second-generation adults, she said, “the camaraderie of being together, just as there is among the survivors themselves.”
Fedder said JFS of Bergen County facilitates a second-generation group, attended by some 35 people.
“In facilitating the conference with the Jewish Family and Children’s Service, we are sending an important collective message that the community supports them and they are not a secret from a world long past. We also hope this will help celebrate the survivors’ strengths and accomplishments … and most importantly their resilience, and pay tribute to them.”
Said David, “Our goal is to give survivors’ families a platform where they can celebrate survival within their families and with the wider community.”
For further information about the conference, call (201) 837-9090, (973) 595-0111, or visit www.jfsbergen.org.