Citizens help Holocaust survivors

Volunteers spend Seder night delivering food parcels to lonely survivors.

dargo (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Fed up with waiting for the government to take control of the situation, volunteers from the newly founded Association for Immediate Help to Holocaust Survivors spent this past Seder night delivering food parcels to lonely and bedridden survivors in an attempt to alleviate some of their suffering for what could be their last Pessah. "We officially started our activities on April 14," Etty Cohen, one of more than 60 volunteers who helped distribute food to survivors countrywide, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "We are just fed up of the government doing nothing. Survivors need practical help - not just talk." For Eva, 83, and her husband, Moshe, 85, (names have been changed) the association's work meant that the Hungarian-born couple were finally not alone for this year's Seder. "In the past we had wonderful Seders, with many children and friends celebrating with us," Eva, who arrived in Israel in 1947 and now lives in Kiryat Yam, told the Post. "But in recent years we've been on our own." She continued: "This year, however, a young girl came and sat with us. She brought us a full Seder meal and some other food for the week. It's been very hard for us recently, with only a small amount of money coming in - my husband does not get a company pension - and we both have health problems." Eva, who survived the war by hiding with non-Jewish friends and family members in Budapest, would not talk about the whereabouts of her own children, but volunteers from the Association said that both were suffering from a rare illness. "I don't know what we would have done this week without them [the volunteers]," she finished. The Association, which also matched up more able-bodied survivors with host families for the Seder meal, planned to continue its work this holiday weekend, too, and already had a waiting list of some 300 needy survivors, many of whom receive only a basic old-age pension. According to Cohen, the majority of those being helped by the charity are immigrants who arrived here from the former Soviet Union within the last 15 years, and despite not directly experiencing the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, they did suffer during the war. Until now, they have not been eligible for assistance from the Israeli government or the Claims Conference (the conference on material claims against Germany). A 2005 study by the Fund for the Welfare of Holocaust Survivors in Israel found that more than 40 percent of Israel's estimated 260,000 survivors lived below the poverty line. Earlier this month, the Knesset unanimously approved a new law aimed at providing some 8,000 Holocaust survivors with an additional payout of NIS 1,000 a month and a yearly grant of NIS 400, as well as other non-fiscal benefits. Government sources confirmed to the Post Thursday that to date, more than NIS 1 billion had already been paid out in additional benefits to survivors and the elderly in general. "In terms of what the government has done so far, it is much more than any other government in the history of Israel," said the source. However, the form-filling process has been reported to be rather bureaucratic and out of those notified that they could be eligible for additional benefits, less than half have returned their forms. Tamara Mor, the founder of the new Holocaust charity, claimed that the "endless paperwork" is prohibitive for many survivors. "Many of these people do not even speak Hebrew," she complained. "One of the things we have been trying to do is to help them to fill out the forms so they will get the money they deserve." Both Mor and Cohen highlighted that their organization did not require any paperwork at all. "We don't make any specific requirements to the people who need our help," said Cohen. "We only check up on those we help with a short conversation; we do not ask people to fill in any forms." She said that in many cases, it has been neighbors or relatives that have contacted the charity asking if it could help the survivors. Following a radio broadcast last Friday on Reshet Bet, many more people came forward with names and to volunteer. "I know many people compare [the Holocaust survivors'] plight to that of all elderly people, but it's not really the same," observed Mor. "The lives of survivors have been shattered, not because of some personal tragedy but because they belonged to the Jewish people. I believe that it is very important for the existence as a Jewish state that we must remember these people, help them and stop the same thing from happening again." Mor said that the association was in desperate need of more volunteers, especially those with specific skills such as lawyers, psychologists and social workers. To volunteer or make donations please call (04) 983-0145 or 077-424-5246.