News Column

Federations Applaud President's Commitment to Holocaust Survivors

May 8, 2014



WASHINGTON, May 8 -- The Jewish Federations of North America issued the following news release:

Upon accepting the Ambassador for Humanity award from the USC Shoah Foundation, President Barack Obama stressed Wednesday the importance of providing care and assistance for Holocaust survivors living in need. The Jewish Federations of North America, which has led the effort to implement such programs, applauded the President's speech and reaffirmed the organization's commitment to raising funds in support of survivors.

"President Obama's strong statement emphasized how important it is to provide for the most vulnerable among us. Too many Holocaust survivors need our help, and we have a moral responsibility to lift them up," said philanthropist Mark Wilf, who leads Jewish Federations' efforts to galvanize support for Holocaust survivor programs. "To that end, Jewish Federations across the country have made tremendous progress raising funds for Holocaust survivors, yet more needs to be done."

While speaking in Los Angeles, President Obama praised the work of director Steven Spielberg and the USC Shoah Foundation, while noting that one way to honor the memories of Holocaust victims is to honor the dignity of survivors.

The president stated that "as Americans, we're proud to be a country that welcomed so many Holocaust survivors in the wake of World War II. As President, I'm proud that we're doing more to stand with Holocaust survivors in America... and tonight I invite more of you to join us. We need to keep faith with these survivors who already have given so much."

As the nation celebrates Jewish American Heritage Month, President Obama's speech highlights the Administration's commitment to helping Holocaust survivors live in their homes and communities with comfort and security. This past December, Vice President Joe Biden announced a number of federal initiatives to support survivors, and significant progress has been made since then. In January, the Administration appointed Aviva Sufian as Special Envoy for U.S. Holocaust Survivor Services at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Ms. Sufian has met with dozens of survivors, social workers, and federal agencies to learn the needs and improve access to services. The Administration has helped forge a partnership between the AmeriCorps VISTA program and the Association of Jewish Family & Children's Agencies to increase the capacities of community organizations to serve impoverished Holocaust survivors. Additionally, the Administration's FY 2015 Budget includes a $5 million challenge grant to encourage public-private partnerships to support programs for Holocaust survivors.

In tandem with the Vice President's announcement, Wilf and JFNA launched an effort to address the needs of Holocaust survivors and bridge budget shortfalls in existing programs. Wilf, the renowned philanthropist and owner/president of the National Football League'sMinnesota Vikings, is a longtime supporter of the Jewish community, and his family is among the largest financial supporters of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel.

While working to secure national funding to meet countrywide demands, Wilf and Jewish Federations have worked alongside local communities, coordinating information and supporting local fundraising efforts to meet regional needs. The Jewish Federations are pleased to support the New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Cleveland communities in raising funds to be used at the local level. The funds will have maximum impact on survivors for priorities such as case management, home care, transportation and other basic needs. Plans to expand to other communities are underway.

Of the approximately 113,000 Holocaust survivors currently in the United States, it is estimated that about a quarter, including many survivors from the former Soviet Union, are living at or below the federal poverty line, placing them at risk of isolation and potentially traumatic institutionalization. In order to remain in their homes and communities, Holocaust survivors need home health care, assistance with transportation, help paying medical and dental bills, and rental assistance or affordable housing.

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