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JFCS Matches Holocaust Survivors with Services

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  • Written By: Jewish News
JFCS Matches Holocaust Survivors with Services

On April 16, at Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale, Holocaust survivors holding candles entered the synagogue’s sanctuary in a procession commemorating Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was the first in-person Yom HaShoah program since 2019, said Sheryl Bronkesh, president of the Phoenix Holocaust Association, the organization that presented the event; almost 20 survivors were in attendance.

“There are approximately 60 survivors in the Greater Phoenix area and another 20ish in the state, with the majority of those in Tucson,” Bronkesh told the Jewish News. “We assume there are others who may have been child survivors, but they don’t consider themselves survivors.”

According to The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), there are more than 260,000 survivors located across the world. Founded in 1951, the Claims Conference negotiates for and disburses funds to individuals for the suffering and losses resulting from persecution by the Nazis. In 2023, the Claims Conference will distribute approximately $625 million in direct compensation to survivors and another $750 million in grants to over 300 social service agencies to provide home care, food and medicine.

There is no fee to apply for compensation from the Claims Conference, yet some people need assistance completing the forms. That is where Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JFCS) comes in.

“JFCS counselors and caseworkers provide case management and advocacy for Holocaust survivors in the Greater Phoenix area,” said Kathy Rood, program manager of Jewish Community Services for JFCS. “Caseworkers assist with applications to the Claims Conference and team members also assist with applications to organizations such as KAVOD and The Blue Card, for emergency financial assistance, and the Henry Schein Oral Health Program for free dental services.”

Holocaust survivors and others gather at Congregation Beth Israel for Holocaust Remembrance Day. Photo courtesy of Daniel Fischpan.

When JFCS first launched its Holocaust Survivor Services program (HSS), the biggest hurdle was learning how to submit claims on behalf of survivors, said Rood. Compared to other communities, Arizona had no formal connection to any of the related organizations, so there were no relationships with staff and very little guidance on their application processes.

Now in its 23rd year, the JFCS HSS program has built a strong relationship with the Claims Conference and has additional support from Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern Arizona in Tucson, the organization that provides guidance for the management of home care services.

The Blue Card receives funding and donations to provide direct and indirect financial assistance for rent, food, medical and dental expenses, hearing aids and small home improvements to help survivors stay safe and independent in their homes.

“When we identify a need, we refer survivors eligible for Blue Card services to Kathy at JFCS,” said Bronkesh.

According to their website, “of the nearly 3,000 Holocaust survivor households The Blue Card serves, nearly 70% live alone and struggle to afford basic needs, such as adequate food and healthcare and more than half of them fall 200% below the federal poverty line, meaning their income is less than $24,980 annually.” Many survivors came to this country after World War II and worked in menial jobs. Tiny pensions from those jobs, social security and Medicaid simply cannot keep up with the financial needs of this aging population.

Survivors also have higher rates of chronic conditions and illnesses, according to a study by the American Medical Association. They are more likely to have hypertension, kidney disease, cancer and dementia, compared to peers in the same age group who did not live through the Holocaust.

Another organization created to assist survivors with medical emergencies, or even day-to-day needs, is KAVOD. KAVOD partners with JFCS and other organizations across the United States to provide aid by paying a provider directly or by purchasing a gift card from a grocery store or pharmacy to prevent any cash outlay by the survivor.

Sometimes Rood also needs to call in help from the community, as was the case when a revision was made to the “German Pensions for Work in Ghettos Law” (often shortened to ZRBG). ZRBG is a German Holocaust reparation law available to survivors who were employed during their internment in Nazi ghettos annexed to the Third Reich. The law was first created in 1997, expanded in 2002 and then revised in 2013. Although not a Claims Conference program, the organization campaigned for its improved implementation so that all eligible survivors would be recognized.

“JFCS staff joined together with local law firms as part of a national effort to assist Holocaust survivors in applying for this reparation,” said Rood. About 40 survivors in the Greater Phoenix area received case management from JFCS and pro-bono legal assistance when completing their applications. “When challenges have risen, the community rallied together.”

As the needs of the aging survivor community have increased over the years, so has the group of survivors the team serves.

“It is an honor to work with and provide support to our local Holocaust survivor community,” said Rood. “JFCS’ support of the community now extends far beyond Maricopa County. The HSS team works with 40 to 50 Holocaust survivors throughout Arizona each year.”

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This article was written by Mala Blomquist and originally published in the Jewish News.