BY DEBORAH MOON
Now is the time to help ensure local Holocaust survivors are able to age with dignity and in place. With that goal in mind, Portland philanthropist Renée Holzman has provided a $500,000 challenge grant for the Holocaust Survivor Community Fund.
Jewish Family & Child Services has until June 30, 2023, to raise the matching funds. JFCS serves 60 Holocaust survivors, 60% of whom live below the poverty line. The Claims Conference, under which the German government provides compensation for victims of Nazi persecution, covers 65% of the cost JFCS spends for Holocaust services. JFCS fundraises to cover the difference.
With survivor clients’ average age of 85, the cost to meet their growing needs increases each year. This year, JFCS must raise approximately $7,500 per survivor.
“Coming out of Covid, there was clearly a suppressed need,” says JFCS Executive Director Ruth Scott. “Once we started doing assessments, it was evident there was quite a need.”
Deputy Director Susan Greenberg says those needs include in-home care such as cleaning and personal care with hygiene and eating. Shopping and transportation assistance, social programs and trauma counseling are also provided.
“We also help clients with paperwork to get other services such as Medicaid,” says Greenberg. “Since 80% of our clients are Russian-speaking, our case managers also speak Russian.”
While many survivors from western Europe came to the United States in the 1940s and ’50s, many of today’s JFCS survivor clients were children during the Holocaust and arrived in the states after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Many Holocaust survivors who were in Soviet-controlled areas after the war also suffered under the policies of Stalin, further adding to their trauma.
The Holocaust has “torn at my heart,” says Holzman. “I have been very moved and anguished by things I have read and the stories I have heard from people I have known who experienced the Holocaust.”
When Holocaust survivor, Nobel laureate and author Elie Wiesel came to Portland to speak many years ago, Holzman was the president of the Oregon Council for the Humanities and was able to have dinner with him and hear his stories firsthand.
To help others understand the horrors of that time, she made sure she provided historical context to books she had high school students read when she taught Jewish literature at Congregation Beth Israel.
When her son, Larry Holzman, became president of JFCS, she learned about all of the intricacies of survivor care and the funding needs. She emphasizes that her son never suggested she donate, but once she understood the need, she felt compelled to do so.
“When does anyone decide that it’s time to take a big step and try to do something on someone else’s behalf?” she asked. When she learned of the fundraising challenge facing JFCS, “I thought I must do something. If not now, when?”
“I was thinking about whether one can ever right the wrongs of history,” says Holzman. “Clearly, in the 1930s, when we could have saved many of the Jews of Europe, the world chose to close its gates, thereby condemning them to the fate that is called the Holocaust. We cannot today undo that cruel decision. … What we can do today is open our hearts to the needs of the survivors. When the history of our era is written, let it be said that we chose the right path.”
To donate, visit jfcs-portland.org/services/holocaust-survivor-services/holzman_challenge_grant/ or mail a check to JFCS (put HHS donation in memo line), 1221 SW Yamhill, Suite 301, Portland, OR 97205.