As we light the candles of Chanukah, all Americans should be heartened by a vote taken in the House of Representatives that shines a light on the needs of one of the most vulnerable populations in our nation.
For all the disagreement in Washington, Members of Congress united today to unanimously voice their support for programs that meet the unique needs of Holocaust survivors as they age in place in communities across the United States, ensuring that they are able to live their final years with dignity, comfort, and security.
The bipartisan leadership of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va) to bring this resolution (H.Con.Res.323) to the House floor is to be commended. In pointing out why she led the resolution through Congress, Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz noted, "As this special community ages, we have a moral obligation to ensure their dignity by empowering them to live out their lives in peace and safety."
Of the approximately 127,000 Holocaust survivors living in the United States today, three-quarters of them are over the age of 75 and nearly two-thirds live alone. Many of these survivors struggle to afford basic needs, such as adequate food and healthcare; more than half of them fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, meaning they earn less than $21,660 per year.
As they age, survivors are at risk of being placed in institutionalized care. While institutionalized care can be beneficial for some older Americans, it can reintroduce for Holocaust survivors the routines, sights, and sounds that are reminiscent of the nightmares they lived through under the Nazis.
The resolution urges the Obama Administration and Department of Health and Human Services to provide survivors with much-needed social services through existing programs. It also highlights the ongoing work of agencies and nonprofits that work in conjunction with Jewish Federations to honor and assist Holocaust survivors.
The Jewish Federations of North America is proud to support many of programs that care for these members of our community because we know from decades of experience the kinds of special services they need and deserve.
One such program is directed by Stuart Kaplan, the CEO of Selfhelp Community Services in New York -- the largest provider of care to Holocaust survivors in North America. As he says,
Although the number of Holocaust survivors is decreasing, the needs of this last generation are growing in scope and intensity due to advanced age and frailty. Compounding the problem is the fact that atrocities during the Holocaust have caused so many to survive alone - with no other family members.
While this need for care increases, the Federation movement understands how important it is that we support organizations like Selfhelp in NY and Jewish Family and Children's Service centers in Los Angeles, Chicago, Florida and across the country so they are able to continue to step in and be a caretaker where no others are available.
During this increasingly critical time, we also appreciate the strong support of our allies in Congress who understand the importance of protecting our Holocaust survivors as well.
We have an obligation to serve these everyday heroes who survived the horrors of the genocidal Nazi regime -- and to ensure they live the rest of their lives with dignity and in peace.