Holocaust survivors take part in a World Jewish Congress photo project for remembrance day..
(photo credit: WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS)
This January 27, nations around the world mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the most horrific evil ever perpetrated upon humanity – the near destruction of European Jewry.
It was fitting, then, that during a special Knesset ceremony on December 20, 2016, I was honored on behalf of The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, along with eight other individuals and organizations, to receive the Beacon of Light Award from the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims. Limor Livnat, chairwoman of the foundation, said the annual awards pay tribute to those dedicated to improving the lives of survivors, honor Holocaust survivors who have excelled in their contribution to Israeli society, and recognize volunteers improving survivors’ quality of life.
I was humbled that The Fellowship was recognized for its longtime dedication to helping needy Holocaust survivors in Israel at a time when the entire world prepares to memorialize the victims of the Holocaust, in a global annual event the United Nations General Assembly launched in 2005 to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
While the ceremonies and awards are important, they also serve to underscore a largely ignored humanitarian tragedy of global proportions that we as a community are not doing enough to address: Today, many of the world’s remaining 500,000 Holocaust survivors are living out their final years in poverty. Most of those who are suffering live either in Israel, across the former Soviet Union, or in greater New York City.
Of 189,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel, 25% live below the poverty line. Among the 60,000 survivors throughout the former Soviet Union, poverty is endemic – approaching 85-90%. Even in New York City, home to another 60,000 survivors, about half live below the poverty line.
This is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis. But worse, it speaks of a moral failure, because those who suffered the unimaginable are suffering once again through general ignorance or neglect. And the clock is ticking for us to respond. Every day, 40 survivors die. Within a decade few who experienced the Holocaust first-hand will remain.
In Israel and throughout the FSU, the poorest survivors are barely subsisting on meager income, often forced to choose between eating and securing life-saving medicine. Many survivors suffer through brutal winters unable to afford heating fuel.
Thanks to the support of millions of Christians across the United States and elsewhere, The Fellowship has been able to provide more than $7.3 million annually in food, medicine, heating fuel, daycare and other assistance to over 18,000 survivors in Israel and more than $15m. annually in food, medical assistance, home care and winter aid to those in the FSU. In fact, we recently ramped up our partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, establishing the IFCJ Food and Medicine Lifeline to serve tens of thousands of poor elderly Jews, many of them survivors not only of the Holocaust but of Soviet oppression, in 11 countries in the FSU.
While we are certainly gratified to have been able to make some impact and help many survivors, we are by no means satisfied that our job is done. As a community, we cannot stand idly by as even one Holocaust survivor in Israel or anywhere else is forced to perform a cruel financial calculus regarding their most basic human needs. Our moral responsibility only begins with remembering the six million, whether it is on International Holocaust Remembrance Day or on Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day each spring. Our moral duty will only be fulfilled when those who survived the unspeakable are not forced to live in unspeakable conditions. This is about seeing to justice for those who have endured.Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is the founder and president of The International Fellowship of Christian and Jews.
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