The KAVOD Survivors of the Holocaust Emergency Fund (SHEF) initiative was launched in March 2019 by Seed the Dream Foundation in partnership with KAVOD-Ensuring Dignity for Survivors to support thousands of Holocaust survivors across the United States. With the emergence and rapid spread of COVID-19, this special initiative has been identified as a key program reaching any survivor in need, regardless of where he or she may live.
In July 2020, New York City became one of the newest local communities in the KAVOD SHEF coalition. New York is home to more than 36,000 Holocaust survivors, and city agencies have now joined together with KAVOD SHEF to increase the resources available during this critical time. UJA-Federation of New York and Selfhelp Community Services have been working diligently to reach survivors with the services they need to stay safe and healthy. Now, through KAVOD SHEF, additional funds are being utilized quickly, with few restrictions, to address emergency needs of survivors in New York and other partner cities across the country.
Marcy Gringlas, president and co-founder of Seed the Dream Foundation, explained, “The survivors’ unmet needs far outweigh the resources available to cover their emergency services. It is for this reason that we launched this initiative to continue matching every dollar raised on the national level—even if we exceed our original goals. It is our hope that KAVOD SHEF will be far-reaching and allow survivors across the country to have access to needed critical services.”
Hanan Simhon, vice president of the Holocaust Survivor Program with Selfhelp Community Services, said, “Selfhelp Community Services’ Holocaust Survivor Program is proud to partner with KAVOD, Seed the Dream Foundation and UJA Federation of New York to address the critical needs of Holocaust survivors living in New York City. As the largest provider of comprehensive services to survivors in North America, Selfhelp is uniquely positioned to impact the lives of the nearly 5,300 survivors we serve each year and is looking forward to this partnership to expand our emergency financial assistance to survivors. This partnership comes at a critical time when survivors are facing COVID-related issues such as health, nutrition, poverty and isolation that can be life-threatening. We are deeply appreciative of the support from KAVOD, Seed the Dream Foundation and UJA, which will offer vital assistance to the most vulnerable survivors.”
Madeline Coleman, who lives in Riverdale, is 92 years old and a Selfhelp client. She left Paris on July 22, 1943, leaving her mother and sister behind when she traveled to South Africa to escape the horrors of her war-torn city. Her father, who always “did the right thing,” felt compelled to ‘register’ at the government’s command. He was deported and perished in the Majdanek Concentration Camp. Once in South Africa, Coleman decided to travel alone to Israel by boat, where she met a young man who was to become her husband. They returned to South Africa, her husband’s homeland, to start their married life. Coleman’s mother and sister soon joined them there. She has been living in the United States for 23 years.
Although Coleman now receives monetary assistance from the German government from funds negotiated by the Claims Conference, it wasn’t until she moved to Riverdale that she was able to complete the necessary paperwork under the guidance of Selfhelp Community Services in the Bronx. She is grateful to Gail Cohen (LMSW, social work supervisor, Selfhelp Community Services, Holocaust Survivor Program-Washington Heights and the Bronx), who visits her on a regular basis. Coleman’s dog, Mocca, is helping ease the loneliness she’s feeling during COVID. She particularly misses meeting with her French-speaking friends, also Holocaust survivors, who live in the Bronx. She now connects with them by phone.
Coleman discussed her feelings about the growing anti-Semitism around us, calling it “mind-boggling.” She fails to understand the rise of hateful feelings so prevalent in our country. She never thought she would experience such intense hatred again in her lifetime. Coleman recently received a letter from a 16-year-old student of her granddaughter, who teaches history and literature on Zoom. The young lady learned about Coleman’s life story and felt compelled to write her a letter, which Coleman shared. “I listened to your story and learned about the horrible events in history,” the student wrote. “You have my compassion and understanding. This (Holocaust) should never happen again.” The letter gave Coleman hope.
Sonia Kam is a Selfhelp client who lives in Riverdale. Although Kam has an upbeat, positive attitude, she misses meeting with her friends, other Holocaust survivors living in Riverdale, and it is clear that COVID has taken quite a toll on her life. She always looked forward to attending events at the Riverdale Y, but cannot do so because of COVID. She misses participating in the intergenerational group facilitated by Selfhelp social workers, bringing Holcoaust survivors and SAR High School students together in conversation.
Kam recently fell and broke her arm. Her son, who lives in Florida, was able to come to Riverdale and live with her for a while, offering his assistance, but she is so grateful to her social worker at Selfhelp who is constantly checking in with her, making sure she has food in her pantry and is able to manage due to her current disability.
Kam spoke about moving from Germany to Belgium with her mother and sister, Hanni. Her father, who had been a professional football player, was rounded up with many others and killed in Auschwitz. In 1949, Kam, age 18, traveled to New York on her own with no money in her pocket and unable to speak English. She met her husband in the Bronx.
The Kams owned a stationery store in Riverdale. They had two children: her son who lives in Florida and a daughter who lives in Israel. Kam never imagined returning to Germany. However, ironically, her Israeli son-in-law is the current ambassador from Israel to Germany, and his family moved to Germany for the duration of his ambassadorship. Kam visited with them on several occasions. On one trip, she found the park her mother had always talked about. The rest of their town had been demolished.
Katie Foley, managing director, external relations and communications, Selfhelp Community Services, Inc., shared, “When the COVID-19 pandemic began, our staff was able to provide crucial support. Selfhelp social workers have provided tens of thousand of hours of case management services to Holocaust survivors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through our comprehensive assessments, our social workers determine a client’s needs and provide support, referrals and assistance. During the pandemic our staff has been diligent about assessing each client’s access to food, safe shelter and medicine, as well as addressing isolation.”
Patti Askwith Kenner, a humanitarian and indefatigable advocate for social causes, particularly Holocaust issues, is a trustee of Selfhelp Foundation, in addition to her other board and trustee positions. She shared this story about the recent Claims Conference and the extraordinary services of Selfhelp:
“My dear friend Dasha, who was the only survivor of Auschwitz in her family, went to the hospital several days ago with stomach pains. She is 95 years old and very frail both physically and emotionally. She has an aide from Selfhelp who comes every day during the week. I called Selfhelp to say that we needed someone overnight when Dasha came home from the hospital. I told them that if they need extra money for the extra help, to please let me know and I would send them money. Hanan Simhon of Selfhelp said that I did not have to send anything because now the German government will pay for 24-hour, seven-days-a week home care.
“I was so moved that I just started to weep because it was so just and right that the Claims Conference has brought us to this place where the Germans are truly assuming responsibility for the lives they took and paying for the crimes they committed against the Jews.” Kenner said.