Charities help survivors struggling to stay afloat

Key social rights project in danger of shutting down due to global economic crisis.

Holocaust survivor 224 (photo credit: AP)
Holocaust survivor 224
(photo credit: AP)
Several key charities and independent projects that provide a wide range of emergency services to Holocaust survivors could be forced to severely curtail their activities or close down completely if the economic crisis continues worsens, The Jerusalem Post was told Tuesday, as the nation marked Holocaust Remembrance Day. "The situation is very, very bad," said Abraham Israel, founder and chairman of the Hazon Yeshaya Humanitarian Network, which distributes thousands of hot meals daily to some of the country's neediest people. Roughly 35 percent of its clientele are Holocaust survivors. "All the government does is throw out smoke screens, telling us that the situation is stabilizing," he continued, adding that the nonprofit organization has already had to close down its soup kitchen in Eilat and significantly reduce its food portions. "Its absurd that [Prime Minister] Binyamin Netanyahu [at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony] talked about how the survivors were the reason we created this state, while at the same time so many of them are standing in line at a soup kitchen," said Israel, who this week reached an agreement with Holocaust survivor charity Hashaba to take on a further 1,000 survivors not being helped by any other group. Official estimates suggest that out of the 270,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel, roughly 80,000 live below the poverty line. In addition, a report published this week by the Welfare and Social Services Ministry shows that less than half of the survivors claim the financial and other benefits they are entitled to under the law. Yet a program aimed at helping survivors understand their rights is among those in danger of shutting down. "The economic situation is deeply affecting our work and I don't know if we will be able to continue in another three or four months," said attorney Yoram-Saguy Sachas, chairman of the National Council for Volunteering in Israel and of the Bizchutam Project, which was established just over a year ago to help ageing survivors understand the complicated rights process. Set up with backing from the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), together with the United Jewish Federation of Canada and with funding from the Claims Conference on Material Claims against Germany, Bizchutam sends volunteers to survivors' homes and helps them to fill out the various application forms to claim their benefits. "So far we have only reached around 10,000 people and that is not even a dent in the 80,000 survivors who are living below the poverty line," complained Sachas, who noted that the project is a joint operation of some 50 nonprofits and that more than 600 volunteers have already been specially trained for the massive task. "We need to carry on but we are running out of time," he continued, estimating that some 30 Holocaust survivors pass away every day. Aviva Silberman, founder and director of the charity Aviv Shoah, which provides pro-bono legal advice to survivors and their families and which is part of the Bizchutam project, also said that funding for her work has dwindled to almost nothing. "We've been in operation for a year-and-a-half and were doing all right until recently," Silberman told The Jerusalem Post. "But it is getting harder and harder to find donations." A lawyer with 16 years' experience working to help survivors obtain benefits and restitution, Silberman said the work of Aviv Shoah and Bizchutam was essential to help people receive all the additional monies, medical assistance and discounts to which they are entitled. Silberman said her organization has published a comprehensive guide to obtaining rights and benefits for survivors. It can be downloaded from Bizchutam can be reached at 1-700-707-400. A spokesman for JAFI said that the contract for the Bizchutam project was only meant to last until September. "In light of its success, however, we hope that some of the funding will be found in order for it to continue," he said.