Holocaust survivors in Northeast Philadelphia face a litany of challenges.
About 75 to 80 percent are low-income, said Inna Gulko, director of support services at KleinLife. According to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, half of Holocaust survivors in the Greater Philadelphia area receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
For more than 200 of these survivors, KleinLife is a place where they can participate in programs and receive services. They may go to the community center for tai chi or music classes or participate in holiday celebrations, or they may benefit from the center’s Home Delivered Meals program or Temple Dental Center’s free services for Holocaust survivors.
Most important, KleinLife gives them opportunities to get out of the house and socialize.
“Coming here, socializing, having friends, being active — it means a lot to them,” Gulko said.
Ana Andrusier, a Holocaust survivor from Romania, goes to KleinLife three times a week for exercise classes and brain games.
“I’ve long been exercising for 40 years, and I got addicted, and I love it,” Andrusier said. “It’s a good, healthy addiction. I’m looking forward for every time that I got to go.”
Socialization is vital, Gulko said, but isolation isn’t the only challenge for survivors. Their low-income status means that many can’t afford to meet basic needs, such as housing and medical care.
KleinLife coordinates with Jewish Family and Children’s Service and Northeast NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) to provide emergency services to Holocaust survivors to meet some of these needs, but resources are still a challenge.
“They’re not in the top level financially,” Gulko said. “Most of them are very low-income, still living in their houses, still trying to get the basic needs with food and transportation and medications. I wish we had more funds, of the emergency funds, that we could help them pay for their stuff. Like hearing aids are really, really expensive. Going through new dentures are very expensive. Paying utility bills are very expensive. [There are] not enough housing options for them. It’s still a lot of things would actually help them if they were available.”
The majority of the survivors KleinLife serves come from the former Soviet Union.
Mariya Keselman, KleinLife program coordinator and creative arts therapist, runs a wellness program for survivors from the Soviet Union called Revive, which is supported by a grant from the Jewish Federations of North America. Revive gives participants opportunities to go to exercise classes or even art therapy.
“It has allowed for a decrease in depression,” Keselman said. “They feel less isolated, they feel able to be more active and feel more physically well. They feel like they’re better able to talk about their Holocaust experience. Those are some of the main reports we’re getting, also getting involved and having something to do, more positive mood and more positive mindset.”
Many of the program participants not only lived through the Holocaust. They experienced anti-Semitic persecution in the Soviet Union and faced the challenge of immigrating to a new country.
Revive takes survivors’ language skills and culture into consideration, Keselman said. Not all of them speak English, so Revive offers programs either in Russian or with a Russian interpreter and gives the participants culturally appropriate foods.
This population also deals with some preconceived notions about mental health treatment, so the program offers opportunities for art therapy, rather than talk therapy, to which they would be less receptive, Keselman said. With that approach, Revive provides some of the first mental health services that many of these survivors have received.
Recently, for example, participants started creating family albums, which helps them reflect on their life and talk about their past with their family.
Some survivors can’t participate in these programs, however, because they are housebound.
“Right now, unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to provide services to people in their homes,” Keselman said. “They have to be well enough to be able to come to the community center to receive services.”
The program’s advisory board includes survivors, which gives them the opportunity to have a role in designing the program. Recently, they named the program Revive and decided to make the logo an image of a phoenix.
“It’s really a symbol for overcoming obstacles and being able to not just die and survive, but really live life to the fullest and take advantage of every moment,” Keselman said. “That’s what we’re seeing in participants.”
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