Survivors schmooze and sing at Cafe Europa
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Survivors schmooze and sing at Cafe Europa

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Activities at Café Europa bring together Eastern European survivors.

Understanding that survivors needed a “non-threatening program where they could get together, re-establish old friendships, and develop a supportive network,” in 2000 Leah Kaufman set out to get a state grant for what ultimately would become Café Europa.

“I wanted to create a place where survivors could be together with those who understand their background – an unspoken language,” said Kaufman, who is executor director of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey.

Today, the 11-year-old program – funded by the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, and private donations – meets monthly at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center and attracts between 80 and 100 people to each event. Clifton’s Daughters of Miriam arranges transport for its residents, and JFS volunteers provide transportation for other participants.

The average age of the people who come to Café Europa’s events is between 85 and 88. While many are from Poland and speak Yiddish, “all Eastern European countries are represented,” Kaufman said.

“We have all kinds of programs,” she added, noting that on Oct. 16 Café Europa will offer a multimedia presentation called “George Gershwin Tunes,” led by Cantor Bill Walton. For some attendees, “This is their only outing, so they really look forward to it.”

Kaufman said she is seeing an increase in the number of new survivors coming to the program.

“Some of them are moving into the area to be closer to their kids,” she said. “They connect with our agency because we provide so many other services for them.”

Reflecting on Café Europa’s audiences, Kaufman said she’s seen the population age dramatically over the past 11 years, and many have become noticeably frailer. Many have physical ailments, and many of those can be traced to their wartime experiences.

The café meets a real need, she added.

Participants are “so happy to be there,” she said. “It’s really nice to be able provide this kind of haimishe program for this kind of population. Some people have actually reunited with others who grew up in the same neighborhood in Eastern Europe.”

For more information about Café Europa, call Jewish Family Service of North Jersey at (973) 595-0111. The program is open to all survivors, and new volunteers always are welcome.

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