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Sunday, December 09, 2018

When I tell people that I am a social worker in the Holocaust Services Department of Jewish Family Service of Central NJ (JFSCNJ), the inevitable first question I always get is, “How many survivors are there?”

I am always happy to inform them that, in fact, there are many Holocaust survivors still alive and thriving in communities all over the world. In Union County alone there are an estimated 500 survivors. At JFSCNJ we are currently serving over 145 survivors, and this number is growing every year as this resilient group of people seeks out more support and services.

Our overall program at JFSCNJ, funded by the JFNA Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care, The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the Wilf Family Foundation, is focused on helping survivors age with dignity and respect within their own homes.

With the mission of “Never Forget,” it is easy to overlook the survivors who can no longer speak about their experiences, or those suffering from Alzheimer’s/dementia. Holocaust survivors today are the most resilient group of people that I will ever meet in my life, but they require our attention and support.

Here is a snapshot of the Holocaust survivors living in Union County communities:

The average age of Holocaust survivors served by JFSCNJ is 89 ½

35 percent increase in new survivors coming to JFSCNJ within the past two years

40 percent of the Union County Holocaust survivors receive Kosher Meals on Wheels

Approximately 60 percent identify as experiencing social isolation and sadness

At JFSCNJ we are always aiming to improve and expand our comprehensive services to Holocaust survivors. Within the past four years, the department has tripled in size. Our services include case management, RN visits, transportation, certified home health aides, Kosher Meals on Wheels, Claims Conference application assistance, socialization programs every week, supportive counseling, social visits to those in institutionalized care, caregiver programs and so much more.

There is little to no research focusing on older adults who have experienced pervasive trauma as children, or young adults. We are pioneering new territory, so we must stay flexible to meet the changing needs of servicing our clients.

We are the fortunate recipients of a federal grant administered through the Jewish Federations of North America Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care and the Jewish Federation of a Greater MetroWest NJ to help us develop a program that will contribute to this gap in research. Initial data demonstrates that the trauma from the Holocaust continues to impact their physical and mental well-being.

The time has come to celebrate the lives of Holocaust survivors as artists, electrical engineers, haute couture seamstresses, businessmen, professors and historians. Their story did not start and end with the Holocaust. Their stories are still being written, and it is our job to empower their stories.

This is why JFSCNJ will be hosting an event on November 11 at Congregation Israel in Springfield, New Jersey to celebrate the survivors of our community. We will be showcasing their resilience, their talent and their lives. We are asking survivors of the community, or their family caregivers, to contribute to this exhibition. This event will celebrate the achievements of Union County Holocaust survivors. Examples might include artwork, books that were written or a special artifact.

If you are a Holocaust survivor residing in Union County, or know of one, please reach out to JFSCNJ and ask about our comprehensive services. If you are a family caregiver of a Holocaust survivor, know that we can also provide supportive services to you as well.

We have monthly relaxation workshops, numerous socialization activities, including Café Europa, a series on practical caregiver tools and support. For information about any of the Holocaust survivor programs in Union County, please contact me at 980-352-8375 or [email protected].

By Alyssa Reiner, MSW, LSW