Support for Holocaust Survivors in Westchester County
By Allison Danzig, JD, LLM and Gillian Rittmaster, LCSW
Approximately 160 Holocaust Survivors reside in Westchester. At Westchester Jewish Community Services (WJCS), we are privileged and proud to offer a range of programs to Holocaust Survivors throughout the county, including support groups, social events, as well as services to Survivors, based on their individual needs.
Sadly, too many Holocaust Survivors residing in the U.S. live at or near poverty level. Thanks to a grant from The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, WJCS is able to reimburse Survivors who are in need for home care expenses. Survivors and their families are so grateful for both the monetary assistance that helps them have sufficient and appropriate help in the home as well as the social connection that eases isolation. Over and over again, we hear that the peace of mind these services give our Survivors and their families has proven invaluable
In partnership with UJA-Federation of NY and the Claims Conference, WJCS is also able to provide socialization events, which offers opportunities for Survivors to enjoy being together. These events include our annual Survivor Day luncheon, Sukkot celebration, and Hanukkah gathering, all of which are generously hosted by local Westchester synagogues. While during the height of the COVID pandemic, support groups and events took place virtually, fortunately, in-person events have now returned. These are amazing gatherings, filled with warmth, love, music, family, food, prayer, and storytelling. They are a stark contrast to the many months during the pandemic when Survivors were at home with little or no face-to-face contact with loved ones.
WJCS recently launched a new initiative called “Share Shabbat.” This program pairs a Survivor with a volunteer to share a Shabbat dinner every month. Currently, 36 Survivors are part of this program and we hope more will join. Food is generously provided by individual donors who sponsor a Survivor’s monthly Shabbat dinner. A volunteer brings dinner to the Survivor, giving them the opportunity to spend time together. They light candles, say prayers, and break bread, as well as share stories and learn about each other’s experiences. Our volunteers get as much out of this experience as our Survivors do. They have expressed to us that they are deepening their Jewish roots and have a greater understanding of Jewish culture, traditions and, most of all, the Holocaust. Our Survivors tell us they look forward to “Share Shabbat” every month and love hearing about current events and the jobs, interests, and families of the volunteers. It is a vital and much-appreciated connection to the outside world.
“Share Shabbat” has provided Survivors with another person in their lives with whom they can talk. It cultivates additional “memory keepers” of the Holocaust experience. It helps guarantee that the stories of the Shoah, will be passed on to future generations. We must never forget the horrors victims and Survivors of the Holocaust endured. The WJCS “Share Shabbat” program both provides social connection and is another way we make sure we never forget.
To find out more about Share Shabbat and other WJCS Holocaust Survivor services, please contact: Allison Danzig at 914-761-0600 ext. 2241. Allison Danzig is Coordinator of WJCS Holocaust Survivor Support Services. Gillian Rittmaster, LCSW, is Assistant Executive Director of Jewish Programs at WJCS.