Jewish nonprofits bring awareness to needs of impoverished Holocaust survivors


Staff report

Two local Jewish nonprofits are launching community campaigns to raise awareness of the needs of Holocaust survivors who are living at or below the poverty level in Palm Beach County.

The Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County and the Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services both launched initiatives to bring attention to the need of impoverished Holocaust survivors.

To help provide services, the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County teamed up with MorseLife Health System to launch “NOW for Holocaust Survivors,” a community campaign to find the estimated 5,000 survivors living at or below poverty level in Palm Beach County and provide the essential services they need.

“It was shocking to learn that there are so many Survivors living within our reach who are suffering from food insecurity, isolation and poor access to care,” said Keith Myers, President and CEO of MorseLife Health System. “As a nationally recognized senior services organization in Palm Beach County with a history of serving the Jewish community, we have an immediate and sacred responsibility to find and help these individuals.”

While MorseLife and Federation already subsidize home care, food and other services for many survivors through private donations, the new campaign will enable both community organizations and their partners to broaden their reach and offer a full lifeline of services.

Currently, it is estimated that the annual cost per survivor is $10,000 per year, depending upon level of need. Funds raised through the campaign will be used to provide free services including everything from medication management, skilled nursing and nutritious meals to transportation, housekeeping, clothing, respite care, safety system installation and home repairs.

In addition, the MorseLife 50-acre campus will offer long-term and short-term care as needed.

“As Jewish people, we are all responsible for caring for one another,“ said Michael Hoffman, President and CEO Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County. “Jewish Federation and our partners have a history and expertise of ensuring we care for vulnerable people in our community. Working together with our vast community network, we can reach and provide for more survivors to enable them to live with dignity.”

In South Palm Beach County, there is also a focus on Holocaust survivors’ needs. JFS hosts Café Europa, a social gathering for Holocaust Survivors living in South Florida, twice a year. At the December event, the fact that one-third of all Holocaust survivors in the United States are living at or below the Federal poverty line, was discussed.

Rales JFS is planning for the future needs of the growing senior population in Palm Beach County, often referred to as the “Silver Tsunami,” with a special emphasis on caring for aging Holocaust survivors.

In 2019, Rales JFS opened 60 new Holocaust cases, which staff say is unprecedented compared to recent years.

The agency currently provides assessments, case management, home-care and financial assistance for over 400 Holocaust survivors.

President & CEO of Rales JFS Danielle Hartman said there is a growing need for support for various reasons including:

Holocaust survivors are living longer, outliving their resources with no family to help, which means they are running out of money sooner than expected (most lived on fixed income);

Unlike other aging populations, Holocaust survivors age differently, with more health issues (and different ones) than typical seniors because of the physical trauma experienced during the Holocaust (including malnutrition, living in confinement, lack of dental care, etc.)

Rales JFS is also raising additional funds necessary to ensure Holocaust survivors are able to age in place, where they feel most comfortable, and not be moved to institutions. Studies have shown that being in institutions is traumatic to the survivors, because it brings back the haunting memories of concentration camps.

“It’s important for Holocaust survivors to age at home, rather than being moved into a nursing home or institution to protect them from memories or  fears that may come up – due to their experiences during the Holocaust,” Hartman said.

Many of the new Holocaust survivor cases also involve Russian Jews, and as a result of the influx of Russian speaking Holocaust Survivors, 2 years ago Rales JFS added Russian speaking staff and identified home-care agencies that could provide Russian speaking aides to support the growing number of Russian Holocaust survivors coming to Rales JFS for assistance.