A fund to serve Holocaust survivors in Greater Washington has collected less than half the amount that fundraisers say is the minimum needed to care for this elderly and increasingly fragile population. Launched last June by the Jewish Social Service Agency, which provides services for Holocaust survivors, and administered by the United Jewish Endowment Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the fund amounts to a fix for a systemic budget shortfall.
At the time, JSSA said it needed $5 million in the fund and planned to raise it within a year. To date, $2.3 million has been pledged, according to the agency.
“There is a much smaller amount available to us immediately,” said Lori Ulanow, chief development officer for JSSA. “In large part that’s because the pledges are spread out over five – and a couple at even 10 – years.”
Ulanow said the available funds were enough for JSSA to restore the services it had to cut because of a $500,000 annual deficit. JSSA will not draw down the available funds, she said. That way they can accrue interest. She added that the fund is not invested as an endowment, but rather “a fund sitting safely in the bank under the auspices of the United Jewish Endowment Fund.”
Two thirds of the survivors in the Washington area live below the poverty line, according to JSSA. The survivor community that JSSA cares for numbers some 250 people. The need has grown in recent years as the community has grown older, and also because the classification of who is a survivor was broadened to include Soviet Jews.
“While $2.3 million raised in one year is very generous on the part of the greater community, it will not cover the anticipated needs of this rapidly aging and particularly vulnerable group of survivors,” Ulanow said.
JSSA has been meeting with individual families to solicit donations, Ulanow said.
A qualified survivor is eligible for up to 25 hours of home care each week. That could include an assistant for bathing and toileting needs, light housekeeping, food shopping and small meal preparation.
“Twenty-five hours is obviously only one day out of seven and still leaves 143 hours in the week uncovered,” Ulanow said. “If you have ever been engaged in meeting the daily needs of an elderly, infirmed person, you will know that even the maximum does not provide an optimum level of care.”
One year ago, Jerry Greenspan, chairman of JSSA’s Holocaust Survivor Program, was optimistic about meeting the $5 million goal. A parlor meeting had started the fundraising campaign by raising $1.7 million.
“The families who have always stepped up to the plate have this time, too,” Greenspan said. “There are still philanthropic families who haven’t responded to the call.”
Fundraisers will launch parlor meetings in September, he said, and will seek support from synagogues.
JSSA’s fundraising effort continues at the same time as a national drive is getting underway to raise money under the auspices of
Jewish Federations of North America. Last December, Vice President Joe Biden announced a number of federal initiatives to support survivors, including appointing a special envoy at the Department of Health and Human Services to act as a liaison for Holocaust survivors and the nonprofit community organizations that serve them.
The initiative followed years of discussions between the White House, members of Congress, Jewish federations and Jewish family and children’s service agencies, such as JSSA.
The JFNA effort will be “to assess and communicate the needs of the Holocaust survivor programs,” and to bridge budget shortfalls, according to JFNA. It will complement rather than compete with local fundraising campaigns, said William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of JFNA’s Washington office.
The national drive will tap “big national-level donors who have not connected with local federations or live in cities that don’t have Holocaust survivors,” he said.
“We see in this as one a rising tide lifting all boats.”