IN THE NEWS: Helping Holocaust survivors
May 28, 2013
Holocaust survivors, including many of the estimated 15,000 survivors in South Florida, would receive much needed social services through legislation introduced last week in the U.S. Congress.
Identical legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate.
The RUSH Act (Responding to the Urgent Needs of Survivors of the Holocaust Act) introduced by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, and Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, would add Holocaust survivors to a priority list for social services through the Older Americans Act.
Meals, mental health counseling, transportation options and home modifications that are needed for survivors to stay in their homes as they get older would be among the services offered.
"It's imperative that we help them age in place," Wasserman Schultz said in a phone interview. It's important that we honor their dignity."
The legislation is "most direly needed," said Rositta E. Kenigsberg, president of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center in Hollywood and the daughter of Holocaust survivors.
The aging Holocaust population has challenges such as medical and home care needs, Kenigsberg said. Some survivors have no money for food, medications or health care, she said, adding that survivors in need have been calling the Center for help.
Survivors want to live at home, where they feel comfortable, for as long as they can, Kenigsberg said.
An estimated 120,000 Holocaust survivors live in the United States and South Florida has the second largest concentration of survivors.
About 5,000 survivors live in Palm Beach County, said Danielle Hartman, president and CEO of the Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service, which has special programs and services for survivors, as do the other Jewish social services agencies in the tri-county area.
Hartman said her agency's survivor clients are requiring more services as they get older and continue to live in their homes. In addition, survivors are living longer than they anticipated and some have outlived their resources, Hartman said.
"Holocaust survivors have endured unspeakable atrocities and have persevered through unparalleled hardships," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "They have withstood it all for decades. They deserve to live out the remainder of their days in dignity and comfort." Ros-Lehtinen said the RUSH Act will "help ease survivors' daily burdens."
"The bill is another step that we can take so those who endured atrocities [of the Holocaust] can live their lives out in dignity," Deutch said in a phone call from Washington, D.C. "It's absolutely in the best interest of survivors to remain in their homes," he said.
The RUSH Act requires that Holocaust survivors' names be added to a priority list for social services as part of the Older Americans Act. The list will be based on social need and survivors' needs will be reviewed along with the needs of others on the list, Deutch said.
The Older Americans statute "already addresses cultural and social isolation," Deutch said. "We can help to allow for funding for home delivered meals and congregate care."
The bill requires that someone in the Administration on Aging oversee the implementation of services to Holocaust survivors, Deutch said.
Hartman said that implementation of services probably will be left up to the states and their local Area Agencies on Aging.
Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service (JFS) offers help, hope and humanity through a comprehensive range of programs and services which support people of all ages and beliefs. With locations in Boca Raton and Delray Beach, JFS programs and services include food and financial assistance, senior services, counseling and mental health services and many volunteer opportunities. Funding is provided by private and corporate support, grants, special events and individuals who reach thousands in need each year. For more information, contact 561-852-3333 or visit www.ruthralesjfs.org.