Specialized Programs Offered to Holocaust Survivors
Seniors living in Middlesex and Monmouth counties can participate in a wide array of socialization, counseling, entertainment and food initiatives offered in their homes through Jewish family services.
Both Jewish Family Service of Middlesex County (JFS) and Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Monmouth County (JFCS), beneficiaries of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, offer specialized services for seniors.
These include kosher Meals on Wheels delivering meals to homebound seniors who are unable to prepare or shop for food, bereavement groups and Holocaust survivor services, including home health aides, counseling and cleaning services.
In the recent New Jersey state budget, the Holocaust Survivors Assistance Program allocation was increased to $650,000 to be divided statewide and, for the first time ever, specific funding of $1 million was set aside for kosher Meals on Wheels.
Locally, both family services also receive a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany Inc. for some Holocaust services.
The two agencies also offer congregate meals for seniors at which they are served a kosher meal and treated to guest speakers, musical entertainment, games such as bingo and lively conversation.
The programs are held at agency offices, synagogues and community centers. Both also provide geriatric counseling in which a trained social worker will visit to assess the senior’s needs.
They can also refer and assist the individual or family member with accessing state and federal resources for assistance.
JFS is Middlesex County’s designated State Health Insurance Assistance Program source helping Medicare recipients who have problems or need assistance with their health insurance. The program, which uses trained counselors, is funded by the county. It also operates the statewide Senior Medicare Patrol to prevent, detect and report Medicare fraud, part of a national SMP network funded by the Administration for Community Living of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
One of the agencies’ biggest senior programs focuses on assisting Holocaust survivors. Even though the number of survivors continues to decline with each passing year, there continues to be a rising number of survivors in the two communities.
“Middlesex County has the largest number of Holocaust survivors in the state,” said JFS Executive Director Roni Salkin, in part because elderly survivors who moved to Florida and other warmer climates as young retirees are returning as they age and need more help from children and family, a trend also evident in the overall senior population. Many have moved to Monroe’s numerous adult communities.
JFS, whose main office is in North Brunswick, has a satellite office in Monroe to serve the seniors in those adult communities.
JFCS Executive Director Leslie Kornfeld has noticed a similar trend in Monmouth, particularly in Manalapan and Marlboro, which has seen an influx of Jews from New York whose aging parents have then moved to adult communities there. Its main office is in Asbury Park and it has a satellite office in Morganville..
The number of survivors being served is also increasing as they newly turn to family services to meet the growing needs of advancing age.
One of the services provided to Holocaust survivors is Café Europa, which offers a monthly free lunch and entertainment program for them and their spouses. On Aug. 29, a joint cafe program was held with survivors from both communities at Temple B’nai Shalom in East Brunswick, some of whom were brought there by volunteers.
As Kornfeld and Salkin and other volunteers served them Chinese food they were entertained by a singer. Kornfeld noted this was the second joint Café Europa. Another was held at the start of the summer at the Chabad of the Shore in Long Branch, which saw perfect weather allowing attendees to walk out to the nearby boardwalk and sit and watch the ocean.
Cyla Karp, a Polish child now living in Marlboro, survived the Holocaust with her family by fleeing to Russia, spending part of the time in Siberia, where her mother became sick from the harsh conditions. In 1946 the family returned to Poland, where her mother died. She immigrated with her father and brother to Israel, and came to the United States in 1960.
Karp is grateful for the assistance she receives from JFCS, noting: “They are nice. If I need to go to a meeting, if I need a ride to the doctor, they give me a ride. They do a lot for us. I get a cleaning girl because it’s very hard for me. They really help.”
Aliza Kendal, 86, a Romanian survivor who immigrated to Israel and then the United States, now lives in Monroe. Having suffered a stroke, she is grateful to have someone do her grocery shopping.
Fay Ross, Holocaust survivor services coordinator at JFS, said if a driver is not available to take a survivor to a doctor or dentist appointment a taxi is called. She also said financial help can be provided for medical, dental or pharmaceutical needs as well as rental assistance..
JFCS Director of Holocaust Services Jennifer Zylstra said socialization programs such as Café Europa are held about nine times a year, usually at a synagogue. She said half that agency’s current clientele is Russian and most are Eastern European.
Yet the two agencies could not offer all the serves and activities they do without the help of a cadre of volunteers to assist with everything from delivering meals to driving to helping at a Café Europa.
Stephane Hollinger of Monroe said she was looking for volunteer opportunities after moving from Long Island, where she was an active volunteer. Her daughter, Dawn Barofsky, is a former president of JFS who suggested the agency.
“Now I drive two seniors who have become really good friends,” she said as she assisted with serving at Café Europa. “Just talking to them is wonderful. They are from Poland and they are just so grateful for life.”
DEBRA RUBIN has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.