On Yom HaShoah Sen. Stern Fights for Thousands of Holocaust Survivors Living, and Dying, in Poverty
LOS ANGELES - Today is recognized as Yom HaShoah. In Hebrew, the literal translation is “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day”.
For the Jewish community – and victims of genocide globally – this day is one of memorialization, commemoration, and mourning. This holiday is also a critical component of Holocaust education, ensuring that younger generations recognize the horrors that can occur when prejudice, hate, and anti-Semitism run rampant in our communities.
With the knowledge that 15,000 Holocaust survivors currently reside in California, today is also a day in which we work to amplify these survivor’s voices and celebrate their resilience and strength.
Unfortunately, almost 50% of these survivors live below the poverty line, and nearly all forms of home and healthcare assistance come at a staggering cost. For individuals like Vivian – a Holocaust survivor from Starokostantinovich, Ukraine – there is simply a gross lack of services available, leaving vulnerable seniors without essential resources – and without the dignity they deserve.
Vivian is legally blind due to degenerative vision loss. She has a number of health issues, exacerbated by her increasingly severe cognitive decline. She has been hospitalized several times in the past year and struggles with consistent medication management. She requires assistance with most activities of daily living, including cooking, dressing, going to the restroom, and personal care.
Vivian receives 142 hours of IHSS homecare per month. Her son, who is retired and lives on a fixed income, has hired a caregiver to supplement her IHSS care, but is unable to maintain the cost of Vivian’s care.
Following 2+ years of pandemic-forced isolation, the need for home care, home delivered groceries & meals, and other assistance to stay safely at home and out of congregate care is skyrocketing while costs are increasing. An additional appropriation to the existing Department of Social Services’ "California Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program" of $36 million over 3 years will ensure that Holocaust survivors are able to live comfortably – and with dignity -- in their communities. As a society, we can help to prevent eviction, hunger, inadequate medical care, loneliness, social isolation, and despair – hardships that are all too common among the survivor population.
Fortunately, nonprofits like Jewish Family Service (JFS) have the desire to fill the dearth of home and supportive care by serving as caregivers and resource suppliers. However, JFS lacks the funding to actually implement these programs and sustain them in the long-term to fulfill the needs of current and future survivors. With additional funding, JFS would be able to provide Vivian with the home care she needs, without forcing her son deeper into debt.
Senator Stern’s passion on this issue stems from his personal experience with JFS. His father-in-law, Joshua, is a 93 year-old survivor who lives with Senator Stern and his wife and receives homecare services from JFS. Senator Stern is adamant that these services should be available broadly, without any survivors forced to sit on service waiting lists, skip meals, or compromise on the homecare they deserve due to financial burdens.
When speaking about the trauma that survivors must confront each and every day, Senator Stern comments: “To live with that experience and walk around with it -- and to assist on being happy, and to assist on buoyancy, and to assist on resilience -- it’s arresting. It changes the way you think about going about your day…
“When you’re asking yourselves how do I remember, how do I carry that torch, how do we survive beyond survival, how do we educate our young people when the actual witnesses are not there to testify anymore...? Think about these next few years as precious moments. There are 15,000 survivors living in California…now they are at the end of their life and dignity is out of reach…We can do something about it. We can provide care at the end of life. Investing in that dignity right now is the most powerful way we can remember…Let’s not make this remembrance a history lesson; let’s make it a commitment to what happens today.”
Today, April 28, is Yom HaShoah. Holocaust Remembrance Day.