As an officer in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, Charles Orden walked past the crematorium of a liberated Nazi death camp.
Later, he told his son about that experience.
The now elderly survivors of that dark time carry lasting emotional and physical scars, whether they were imprisoned or hidden or forced to flee their homes. And so Mr. Orden’s son, Zach Orden of Hillsdale, who is a dentist, says he feels privileged to be able to volunteer his professional services to DASH (Dental Assistance for Survivors of the Holocaust). The program, an outreach of the Jewish Family Service of North Jersey, is offered to survivors who cannot afford the dentistry they need.
“I am currently treating a patient who was saved by Raoul Wallenberg,” said Dr. Orden, referring to the Swedish diplomat who rescued tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during World War II. “My assistant, who is Catholic, had never seen a survivor’s arm with a number tattooed on it.
“She was overcome with emotion and has done some reading on the subject since then. So an educational purpose has been achieved as well.”
Established in April 2015, DASH was the brainchild of Dr. Michael Goldberg, a retired dentist from Franklin Lakes.
“A few years ago I joined the board of trustees of JFS,” Dr. Goldberg said. “At one meeting, the president gave a report about a White House initiative to approach Jewish federations to determine the needs of aging Holocaust survivors.”
The Jewish Federations of North America estimates that there are about 120,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States, about a quarter of whom live below the poverty line. Medicare does not cover dental care, which puts the care even further out of those survivors’ reach.
Hundreds of survivors — the exact number is unknown — live in the Fair Lawn-Elmwood Park vicinity. That is a key part of JFS North Jersey’s catchment area, which is Passaic and northwest Bergen counties.
“I emailed Leah Kaufman, our executive director, and President Allyn Michaelson suggesting that we offer pro-bono dental care,” Dr. Goldberg continued.
His idea was embraced enthusiastically, and Dr. Goldberg recruited an initial volunteer group of 17 dental professionals. The JFS conducted an accredited continuing-education course to sensitize the professionals to issues particular to this population, including “white-coat anxiety” and the lingering physical effects of their early trauma.
“For many Holocaust survivors their suffering included starvation, illness, disease, and malnourishment that contributed to dental problems,” social worker Alice Blass said. Ms. Blass is the coordinator of Holocaust Survivor Services at JFS North Jersey, which has offices in Wayne and Fair Lawn. “And as we all know, oral health is connected to general health.”
One 77-year-old Holocaust survivor in Fair Lawn, who already was a JFS client, talked to Ms. Blass when the clasp on her partial denture broke and was not repaired properly.
“I asked Alice if she can help me because I am on Social Security and the dental work is pretty expensive,” said the woman, a native of Leningrad, who spent her childhood war years in Siberia and immigrated to the United States 37 years ago.
“Alice sent me to Dr. Goldberg in Midland Park,” she continued. “He took a look and said he could fix it so it will stay more permanent. He sent my partial to a lab and in a couple of days I got it back and it was perfect.
“Now I can eat. I was very happy with this program, because it’s hard to get by without help.”
There are now 23 dentists participating — Jews and non-Jews — including such specialists as oral surgeons, endodontists, and periodontists. In September, the new dental hygiene clinic at Bergen Community College will participate in DASH as well.
“So far we’ve provided $25,000 worth of dental care in 60 visits to 23 patients,” Dr. Goldberg said. “I secured a renewable $25,000 grant from a foundation that covers our lab fees for things like dentures and crowns. A dental supply company, Parkell, donates supplies on a quarterly basis that I distribute to the DASH dentists. Oral-B has donated toothbrushes and toothpaste. In addition, a corporation donated a portable dental transilluminator to help diagnose caries.”
Ms. Blass refers people to DASH based on the samefinancial eligibility guidelines as those she uses for recipients of home care services that the Claims Conference funds for Holocaust survivors. The JFS offers a range of programs in which about 250 survivors of all means participate, including the monthly Café Europa social and luncheon held at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center.
“Last July we identified 40 additional survivors in our catchment area, and we believe there are more,” she said.
Dr. Goldberg reviews each case that Ms. Blass refers to him, and he matches the patient with the appropriate DASH volunteer. “We provide transportation if they can’t get there on their own, and we coordinate between general and specialists’ offices if need be,” he said. “The patients have been very appreciative.”
Drs. Paul and Daniel Barabas — father-and-son periodontists practicing in Ridgewood — have treated two DASH patients so far.
“I grew up in Jersey City and my next-door neighbors were Holocaust survivors,” Paul Barabas said. “That had an impact on me. I have been close to Michael Goldberg for years, and when he asked me if we wanted to get involved it was a no-brainer. We feel good about doing it.”
DASH is the only program of its kind in the state; Dr. Goldberg knows of a similar project in Florida. The Bergen County Dental Society’s pro-bono program is not geared specifically to Holocaust survivors.
Ms. Kaufman has made DASH available to clients of the Teaneck-based JFS of Bergen and North Hudson as well as to the JFS of North Jersey.
“It’s a great program, and addresses a health need that many of the people in this population cannot afford to address,” she said. “It provides them an opportunity to get the care they deserve, and we feel very privileged to be able to be able to help them live out the rest of their lives with dignity.”
She hopes to get more volunteer dentists involved and identify additional survivors who need the service.
Ms. Blass handles all the arrangements. Call (973) 595-0111 or email email@example.com.