Dichter: Foundation for Holocaust survivors needs private donors

Avi Dichter’s renowned career has always been strongly influenced by his identity as the son of Holocaust survivors.

Former Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Former Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
From serving in IDF special forces to heading the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), and from Minister of Home Front Defense to Minister of Public Security, Avi Dichter’s renowned career has always been strongly influenced by his identity as the son of Holocaust survivors.
In April, Dichter was appointed as chairman of the Foundation for the Benefit of the Holocaust Victims in Israel, a government-funded nonprofit organization providing survivors with services such as nursing assistance, refunds for medical expenses, home renovations, volunteers’ company and legal assistance.
“I think that if my parents, up there, wherever they are, knew that I’m now head of this foundation, that would bring them a lot of satisfaction,” he told The Jerusalem Post in his Tel Aviv office on Thursday.
The foundation, which is budgeted by both the Treasury and the Claims Conference, has encountered much financial difficulty prior to Dichter’s arrival.
In November 2012, the organization announced the suspension of financial benefits for survivors’ medical needs in that year, due to an overflow of requests and a shortage in the budget allocated by the Ministry of Finance.
As a result, some 6,000 survivors’ applications for medical expenses refunds remained unanswered last year.
The root of the problem, Dichter said, comes from the foundation’s dependence on government funding.
“We are a nonprofit budgeted by the government, and that is the worst situation to be in, because you depend on bureaucracy, which is a huge strain, on all levels,“ he told the Post.
“The assistance for medical expenses that we give survivors is often called ‘grants,’ but what it really is, is refunds,” Dichter explained.
“A grant is when you receive money, you use it, and then you give some proof that you’ve used it. Refunds mean that you take money from your own pocket, you use it, submit a bill and receive your money back.”
The distinction, he said, is very important, because the foundation receives funds in the form of reimbursements from the Treasury.
“In other words, Holocaust survivors need to spend their own money for their medical needs, and only later receive the reimbursement,” he clarified.
“But the budget that the government allocates to these reimbursements is limited; if there is suddenly no budget, people who already have spent the money because they thought they’d get it back don’t get it back, and that is not fair.”
“You can’t disappoint a Holocaust survivor,” Dichter said. “You could just not give them the aid, but you can’t tell them that you will and then not keep your promise.”
Another problem that the foundation regularly deals with is the large number of survivors who either don’t fit into the criteria determined by the government in order to be eligible for certain benefits, or have special needs, for which there is no official aid available.
For example, by law, survivors who made aliya after 1953 are not entitled to as much financial compensation as those who arrived before the date, a difference of thousands of shekels, Dichter said.
In order to remedy the budget issues, Dichter has begun exploring the idea of raising funds through private donations.
“There is no history of serious fundraising here, and we also can’t start building a proper platform for it now, because by the time we finish establishing it, there will be money, but there will be no one to give it to,” he said.
Dichter said that he makes sure to fit in meetings with potential international donors when he takes personal trips each month.
“Donating to a museum, a university or a hospital is much more widely accepted because they put a sign with your name on things, but you can’t put a sign on a Holocaust survivor,” Dichter said. “It demands a different approach.”
“We need to tell them the individual stories of these struggling survivors,” he said.
“Donors want to connect to the cause not just rationally but also emotionally.”
Raising donations from outside the government, he believes, will allow the foundation, which assists some 70,000 survivors each year, to treat special cases, and to strengthen its activity in essential home renovations and providing the company of volunteers for lonely survivors.
“I want the foundation to have the means to do what it wants to do,” Dichter stated.
“For me, Israel is not something to be taken for granted,” he said. “Israel is something that we need to maintain and care for, because we’ve already experienced destruction, and I have no intention of witnessing another.”