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A foundation that provides health care assistance to elderly Holocaust survivors on Tuesday said it will be forced to cut off services to thousands of people on Jan. 15 because of a cash crunch.
Since the cost of care is increasing but donations remain the same, officials said the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel can no longer afford to provide short-term in-home nursing care and money for glasses and hearing aids.
Dubby Arbel, the foundation's chief executive, said 20,000 people received short-term services last year, and 15,000 others are on a waiting list.
"I don't know who will help the Holocaust survivors. I do know that something was torn from my heart today and from the hearts of the Jewish people," he told a news conference in Tel Aviv. He said the group needs an additional $10 million to restore the services.
The foundation's main service, long-term nursing for about 10,000 survivors, will not be disrupted, he said. Today, about 280,000 survivors live in Israel.
A study this year showed that 40 percent of them live below or just above the poverty line, defined by the government as $400 a month per person.
The foundation receives almost all of its budget from the Claims Conference, an international body that distributes German and Austrian reparations to Holocaust survivors. Arbel urged the Claims Conference and the Israeli government to increase funding.
"It's a lot of money from private donations, but it's a small amount for the Finance Ministry of Israel and the Claims Conference," he said.
Hillary Kessler-Godin, a spokeswoman for the Claims Conference, said the needs of survivors in Israel are great, but felt funding should come from other sources.
"We hope that others in Israel will recognize the importance and attempt to ensure these programs are continued," Kessler-Godin said.
Eli Yosef, spokesman for the Finance Ministry, said his agency gives about NIS 7 million to the foundation each year. He would not say whether that would be increased to save the threatened programs.
The foundation has received a $36 million budget for the coming year, the same as the previous year, Arbel said, but as survivors age, their needs have become more critical and the costs of assisting them rise. He said the average age of Holocaust survivors is now 80.
Moshe Levy, 77, of Tel Aviv, relies on the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims for health care services. Since he was released from the hospital two months ago, the foundation has provided him with a home health care worker.
"(The care worker) washes me, dresses me, puts on my slippers, everything," said Levy, who is connected to oxygen 24 hours a day and uses a wheelchair. "I don't know what I can do without him."
Wolf Factor, chairman of the foundation and an Auschwitz concentration camp survivor, said stories of people like Levy keep him awake at night.
He called on the state of Israel and the Claims Conference to "come to their senses and understand that honoring the memory of the Holocaust is not only to remember the dead, but essentially to remember the living who still need us."
Ariela Lowenstein, head of the Center for Study and Research of Aging at the University of Haifa, said that caregivers at home allow patients to spend less time in the hospital, actually saving money.
Also, she said, many Holocaust survivors are prone to trauma in hospitals because the facilities may remind them of concentration camps.