Today, April 8th 2021, is Yom HaShoah — a day of commemoration for the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Unlike International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates all the victims of the Holocaust, Yom HaShoah is a day for the Jewish community to reflect internally. Today, we take time to educate future generations and bear witness. We honor the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah and celebrate the achievements of survivors.
As we use this Yom HaShoah for community reflection, we must ask ourselves not only “how are we honoring the memory of those lost?” But also, are we doing enough for those that survived? Holocaust survivors today are an especially vulnerable population due to the ongoing global pandemic.
There are around 350,000 Holocaust survivors alive today, roughly 35,000 of which live in New York and many live in financial hardship. Forty percent of survivors in the New York area live below the poverty line, Eric S. Goldstein, the chief executive of the UJA-Federation of New York, told the New York Times.
This is a problem that persists across North America, and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of the roughly 17,000 Holocaust survivors living in Canada, about one quarter live in poverty, a 2015 study found.
“There are now more survivors than ever before in need of our emergency funding,” the Jewish Family and Child Services of Toronto wrote in a press release.” In fact, Toronto’s Jewish community is one of the only in the world whose Survivor population is increasing, not shrinking. We are unique in our challenges as hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Former Soviet Union live in, or immigrate to, Toronto. This is among the fastest growing communities in Toronto, and they often sponsor their elderly parents, who are eligible survivors, to come here to live.”
The Azrieli Foundation has reported that survivors also suffer from almost 15% more disabilities than the general Jewish population in their age group.
Holocaust survivors are a uniquely vulnerable population because many have been wounded in ways that cannot be healed, the foundation wrote in a report. “Their challenges and traumas may have included being orphaned, witnessing the killing and beating of family, witnessing mass murder, experiencing starvation, living in concentration camps, being kicked out of their homes, and re-building their lives in the aftermath. The list of inhumanities goes on, as do the ripple effects of the traumas throughout their lives.”
In light of these reports, Jewish organizations are working to combat poverty within survivor communities.
For example, KAVOD, a hebrew word which means honor or respect, is an organization that provides emergency aid to Holocaust survivors in need. They were founded in 2015 and work to help Holocaust survivors live the remainder of their lives comfortably and with dignity.
“The support these Survivors receive does not allow them to afford what is needed to live a dignified life. Many are choosing between heat or food, medicine or rent. Others have dire living conditions because they cannot invest what is needed to repair their homes,” they write on their website.
In March 2019, KAVOD partnered with Seed the Dream Foundation to create the Kavod Survivors of the Holocaust Emergency Fund (SHEF), a national matching initiative to support thousands of Holocaust Survivors across the United States. The program has helped KAVOD work with communities across the United States bringing in millions of additional dollars and services.
“It is unconscionable and unacceptable that these courageous people, who’ve endured so much already, are living their remaining years struggling with day to day essential needs… [we] help these Survivors live their remaining years with dignity and honor,” they write on their website.
A we reflect on this Yom HaShoah we should also recognize that the pandemic has uniquely impacted Holocaust survivors living with trauma that could only be aggravated by a year of isolation, uncertainty, and fear.
Here is a list of North American resources to support Holocaust survivors:
Organizations that work in Eastern Europe and Russia:
Originally Published Apr 9 2021 07:44AM EDT