JFCS provides vital services to Holocaust survivors

 

BY COLLEEN RODRIGUEZ
Executive Director, Jewish Family & Community Services

 

                More than 70 years after its traumatic end, the enduring legacy of the Holocaust lives on, through the stories, experiences and life lessons shared by 40 Holocaust survivors in the Jacksonville Jewish community. They are an amazing group of people and we are fortunate that they have chosen to make Jacksonville their home.  Several years ago, Leslie Kirkwood and Bob Fischer made a commitment to ensure that our Survivors were known and that their stories were told. In 2010, JFCS was honored to be asked to form a Survivor group and begin working with them and their families.  Now, five years later, thanks to funding from the Jewish Federation of Jacksonville and other donors, a JFCS Case Manager devotes her time exclusively to assisting our community's survivors and their family members.
                An advisory committee of first and second generation survivors guides our efforts and feedback from the committee helped shed light on a vital need to bring Survivors and their family members together. Modeled after a program that the JFCS in West Palm Beach offers, we began holding quarterly social gatherings. These gatherings greatly help the survivors decrease isolation and reinforce connections to one other. They provide a safe place to share their life experiences and struggles, while allowing them connect with one another.  Many Survivors were surprised to find that there were close to 40 others like them living just a few miles away.  Over the years, this group has formed a close bond, even helping to develop a Survivor Hagaddah, the first of its kind, weaving the stories of survivors into the Passover Seder.
                Sadly, as time has passed, we have learned that roughly 50-percent of our survivors are now living in poverty. JFCS feels strongly that this is not acceptable and is working with AJFCA, our Local Federation, and the JFCS in West Palm Beach to ensure that all of our Holocaust survivors are accessing Claims Conference dollars to which they are entitled, in addition to in-home services, meals, transportation and case management services. Through a special collaboration, the JFCS in West Palm Beach receives the Claims Conference Allocation for our local Survivors and in turn we access those dollars to pay for up to 25 hours per week of in-home support services for each survivor. We hope to be able to expand these services with additional dollars that may come available through AJFCA.
                Through our Gen 2 group, we also provide support to the second generation of survivors.  Gen 2 started as a grassroots effort from adult children who met one another through Holocaust survivor events. Children of survivors share a unique bond - they, too, are survivors as they have grown up in the shadow of the Holocaust. The enormity of that trauma often impacts their parents' and their own coping abilities in addition to their world views. The result can be a culture of silence, whereby doors to history are potentially shut for themselves and future generations. Processing those experiences and feelings in a caring, therapeutic venue is essential for healing and strengthening family relationships for generations to come. Gen 2 creates a forum for adult children to establish connections with one another as they explore and share their parents' stories with future generations.  
               
To make a difference in the life of a Holocaust survivor today, contact Kathy Wohlhuter at 904- 394-5727 or kwohlhuter@jfcsjax.org

This past year during allocations, the Jewish Federation of Jacksonville allotted $294,500 to help JFCS serve the unmet needs of those in the Jacksonville community, who are less fortunate. Some of those deprived of basic necessities include the 40 Holocaust survivors who call Duval County home.