Every year, Jewish Family Service of North Jersey receives funding from the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany to provide subsidized home support services to homebound Holocaust survivors.
Some of that grant money is conditional, requiring that JFS raise matching funds. This year, the organization may not be able to do that.
“If JFS cannot raise $33,000 by June, our survivors programs may lose $90,000,” said Leah Kaufman, the group’s executive director.
According to Kaufman, raising the funds was not a problem when the economy was strong. Now, however, “funds from a main sponsor have dried up,” she said, pointing out that without the additional funding, “JFSNJ will need to decrease the amount of assistance it provides to the survivors in our community.”
Kaufman said the services and care management provided by the agency have enabled survivors to “age in place, in their accustomed home environments, thereby avoiding institutionalization and enabling them to preserve dignity in the declining years of their lives.”
As the remaining survivor population becomes frailer, the demand for home support services has dramatically increased, she said, adding that while many of these survivors do not qualify for government-funded programs, they cannot afford to pay for these services.
“Many of the survivors’ health-related ailments are a direct result of their wartime experiences,” she said. “They suffer from gastrointestinal ailments due to the starvation they encountered, and debilitating arthritis due to the long exposure to the cold weather. Many continue to suffer from night terrors, which has been exacerbated by aging.”
Kaufman noted that depression and anxiety are also common symptoms. She explained that some survivors are having to assume a caregiver role for a spouse who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s, which affects short-term memory but not long-term memory. “For a survivor with Alzheimer’s, the tendency to relive the Holocaust becomes a reality,” she said. “For the caregiving spouse, this adds another layer of stress.”
The JFS director said the agency relies on care managers to coordinate services and provide counseling, working with the survivors’ families and providing in-home assessments and referrals to community resources. She noted that care managers attend the group’s CafÃ© Europa gatherings – a social group for survivors – as part of their outreach efforts.
The managers “provide an assessment of the survivor’s needs, assist with entitlement applications, advocate for services, link the survivor to ancillary services such as transportation, coordinate in-home support services, monitor the survivor’s needs and make changes when appropriate, and provide supportive counseling,” said Kaufman.
She pointed out that the home support services funded through Claims Conference grants include assistance with bathing, dressing, meal preparation, and housekeeping.
Kaufman described the plight of several survivors being served by the agency.
One, “Mrs. B.,” is a 90-year-old widow from Poland. Living alone in a HUD-subsidized building in Paterson, she is legally blind and suffers from severe arthritis and a heart condition. “Mrs. B.” has no children. Her only living relative is a nephew who lives far away. She became known to the agency through the Kosher Meals on Wheels program and the building’s social worker.
JFS has been able to help her in numerous ways, said Kaufman.
“A JFSNJ care manager met with her to assess her needs. A home health aide was provided to assist Mrs. B. with light housekeeping, shopping, and grooming. Through the agency’s van and volunteers, transportation was arranged so that Mrs. B. was able to keep her doctors’ appointments. In addition, the care manager provided supportive counseling, helping Mrs. B. cope with her own limitations.”
Similar services are provided to other survivors, said Kaufman, who noted that as they age, Holocaust survivors have special needs.
“Many of the struggles survivors encounter daily inevitably bring up their Holocaust experiences and past losses,” she said. Still, “with supportive counseling and home support services, survivors can continue to reside within their communities with dignity and find some comfort from the anxiety that they are experiencing.”
For further information about JFSNJ survivors programs, call (973) 595-0111.
Esther East, director of Jewish Family Services of Clifton-Passaic, said her agency will not be affected by the matching grants provision, instituted several years ago by the German government.
She explained that the home health group tapped by JFS to provide care for 11 aging survivors in the community supplies the matching funds, now totaling nearly $16,000.
“It’s completely outrageous that the reparations people are entitled to are not given without strings attached,” she said. “This is completely a service grant. Actually, it costs us money,” she added, noting the agency’s administrative costs.
“I don’t know what they’re thinking,” she said. Why is this acceptable?”