Helping Holocaust Survivors Through Emergency Support and Advanced Care Planning

By Max Slutsky
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Each year, more than 600 Russian-speaking Holocaust survivors receive services through our agency, ranging from case management to access public benefits and entitlements to in-home support, including handyman and housecleaning visits, holiday food package delivery from teen volunteers, and critical new support for advanced care planning as the large majority of our survivors near the end of their lives. The provision of a comprehensive program serving our most frail population enables the agency to be in the right place at the right time to serve as the safety net when one of our clients is in crisis.

Recently, one such client faced insurmountable challenges as a result of her apartment building becoming infested with bedbugs. Forced to dispose of her infected furniture, including her bed and sofa, she had no choice but to use her rent money in order to purchase temporary fixes like an inflatable mattress until she could figure out a better solution. Loathe to depend on others, Bella, a 92-year old émigré from Kiev who was a high school principal earlier in her life, finally felt that she had no choice but to ask for help in her time of need. Arriving for the first time at the J in 1999, Bella was an active member of the J’s social clubs for Holocaust Survivors, until she became homebound as her health began to deteriorate. Bella is no longer able to get to the J on a regular basis, but we come to her, in the form of regular telephone reassurance calls by our volunteers, in-home case management visits from our social worker as needed, and holiday food package delivery by our teens. Aiding homebound Holocaust survivors is a top priority for the agency. The help is not episodic; it is part of our comprehensive approach to serving survivors, which includes support from UJA-Federation of New York, NYC City Council, the Blavatnik Foundation, the Ivker family and friends, many of you, and most recently, a sizable grant from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA.) The new grant from JFNA provides education and support for advanced care planning, including spiritual support to enable survivors and their family members to talk about end of life concerns, empowering survivors to retain control over their decision making as long as possible. It’s never easy to talk about death and dying, and for our survivors, their time is too near. Supporting survivors and their family members to talk about how they wish to live the remainder of their lives enables them to live those days in dignity and with the respect they deserve. 

For Bella, this week we’re providing cash assistance. For another survivor, we’re making a home visit in order to help them remain connected to community in the face of their inability to leave their home. For others, it’s a conversation about healthcare proxies and durable powers of attorney, empowering survivors to express their wishes for how they want to be cared for as they approach the end of their lives. Bella and so many survivors like her pride themselves on their ability to remain independent. Our work is to develop trusting relationships through which they can ask for help when needed, and to be there when they need it. In the wake of her crisis, Bella received a one-time emergency grant to help cover the cost of not only her rent, but for the purchase of a new mattress as well. We welcome any of our supporters who wish to join a home visit to a homebound Holocaust survivor in our community to be in touch with us today.

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