KleinLife Granted $150K for Holocaust Survivor Care

Rita Shapiro and Eduard Petrenko attended a KleinLife holiday luncheon for its adult Russian-speaking population. | Photo provided

The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) awarded KleinLife in Northeast Philadelphia a $150,000 grant to benefit care for area Holocaust survivors.

In its third round of grants, 30 organizations across the country were funded by JFNA’s Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care. About $2.8 million is distributed each year, which helps organizations improve the health and well-being of vulnerable survivors, and train staff and volunteers.

This year, $2.2 million will go toward new projects, while the remaining $662,500 funds last year’s awardees to sustain ongoing programs. Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia is one organization that received a renewal grant.

These trained staff and volunteers reduce survivors’ risk of social isolation, depression or declining health — which can trigger traumatic memories — through group or individual therapy, wellness programs, creative health programs like yoga or art therapy, visitations, and social and cultural excursions. The programs also promote person-centered, trauma-informed (PCTI) care for survivors.

Andre Krug, president and CEO of KleinLife, said the institution serves a population of about 400 Holocaust survivors, most of them Russian-born.

Not only are these people struggling by the very nature of being survivors, but they’re technically immigrants in this country, making everyday tasks like speaking English a challenge, he said.

Some are eligible to receive reparations from Germany, including those who were displaced during the war. Since the Claims Conference’s first agreement with West Germany in 1952, more than $70 billion has been paid to more than 800,000 Holocaust victims, according to The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (an organization that is also partnered with this JFNA grant).

“They also lived in the Soviet Union under anti-Semitism for so many years that it’s a completely different kind of population with different challenges,” Krug added. But reparations are not enough to provide real care for them, considering other grants don’t usually support PCTI-related services.

Krug said the additional programming and services provide extra support to improve their physical, mental and social well-being.

KleinLife will implement new menus based on survivors’ Russian backgrounds to recall their culture and heritage, as well as institute yoga classes, concerts at the Mann Center, and Jewish studies programs, which Krug said is the most important of all.

“Religion was outlawed in the former Soviet Union, so we’re reintroducing them into Judaism,” he explained.

“On top of what we’re providing, we’re going to add additional programming,” he continued. KleinLife personnel, including social workers and program directors, will be trained in PCTI care. “People who are going to work with them have to be specially trained to deal with people who incurred trauma in the earlier parts of their life.”

PCTI care provides a holistic approach to therapeutic services, uplifting survivors through dignity, strength and empowerment. It helps caretakers better understand the psychological and emotional traumas survivors still endure.

JFNA’s Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care launched in 2015 from an award by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living, which provided up to $12 million over five years to advance PCTI services for survivors.

“It is critical that we deliver these lifesaving and life-enhancing services to Holocaust survivors,” said Mark Wilf, chair of JFNA’s National Holocaust Survivor Initiative. “The past two years of this federal grant program have shown the deep impact that person-centered, trauma-informed services can have on Holocaust survivors. We are grateful to partner with the government to augment this work.”

In total, Jewish federations have raised more than $45 million for survivor care for JFNA’s National Holocaust Survivor Initiative.

But this necessary care is only the beginning, which Wilf and co-chair Todd Morgan explained in a June 2017 JTA op-ed: “Holocaust survivors in poverty need food, medical help, dental care, hearing aids and housing assistance, none of which the federal grant is authorized to provide. And as survivors grow older, their needs grow greater with each passing day.”

Of the 100,000 to 130,000 survivors in the U.S., about one-quarter are age 85 or older, and one in four lives in poverty, according to JFNA.

While most survivors in the Philadelphia community use KleinLife, many still don’t, Krug said. But he has seen an increase in participation among younger survivors, meaning those born right before or during World War II or whose families were displaced.

He added helping survivors is simply the right thing to do — “the Jewish thing to do.”

“They’ve been through a lot in this life,” Krug said. “They deserve to be taken care of because, God forbid, none of us should experience what they’ve experienced in their lives.” 

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