statc J£w$ Got Mon€¥: avril 2012

samedi 28 avril 2012

Google: les suggestions du moteur de recherche font grincer des dents

Plusieurs associations ont assigné en référé la société Google pour que la justice interdise au moteur de recherche d'associer automatiquement le mot «juif» au nom de personnalités faisant l'objet de requêtes d'internautes. Une audience a été fixée mercredi, à 10h, a annoncé l'avocat de SOS Racisme, Me Patrick Klugman, qui estime que la fonctionnalité «Google Suggest» avait abouti à «la création de ce qui est probablement le plus grand fichier juif de l'histoire».

dimanche 22 avril 2012

Israeli state funding of Holocaust victims' foundation drops for third year

Over the past year, about 14,000 survivors, nearly 90 percent of whom are over 75, received funding from the organization to cover medical care.

Among those marking Holocaust Remembrance Day beginning on Wednesday evening will be Israel's 198,000 survivors.
While many of them are in financial distress, the state has, for example, been steadily cutting the funding it provides to the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel.
holocaust - AP - January 27 2011
Concentration camp survivor Michael Urich walks along the tracks of Grunewald train station from where the Jews of Berlin were sent to Auschwitz, on Holocaust Remembrance Day 2011 in Berlin, Germany.
Photo by: AP

By contrast, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, commonly known as the Claims Conference, which negotiated restitution with the German government after World War II, has boosted its financial support of that foundation, which provides economic and other assistance to the survivors. In 2010, the budget of the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims was NIS 422 million - NIS 169 million from the Finance Ministry and NIS 253 million from the Claims Conference. Last year, the budget was NIS 399 million, of which NIS 132 million was from the government and NIS 267 million from the claims organization. The trend continued this year: NIS 116 million of the foundation's NIS 429-million budget is from the Israeli government, and NIS 313 million from the Claims Conference. An analysis of the 52,500 people who received assistance last year from the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims shows that over 10,000 of them have no children. Fully 54 percent have no living spouse. About 65 percent of those asking for help from the organization were women. The foundation was established in 1994 by the Center of Holocaust Survivor Organizations in Israel, with the backing of the Claims Conference. Over the past year, about 14,000 survivors, nearly 90 percent of whom are over 75, received funding from the organization to cover medical care; by comparison, in 2008, only 40 percent of those assisted were over the age of 75. The most common request, made by more than 40 percent of those seeking assistance, was for financial help for the purchase of medication. Funding for dental care was sought in 37 percent of the cases. Over the past year, the foundation also provided custodial nursing care to nearly 20,000 survivors in the country. There was a decline last year in the number of survivors who received direct assistance of various kinds from the foundation, from about 60,000 in 2010 to 52,500 last year. According to a report from the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, which engages in applied social research, a mere 0.4 percent of Israeli Holocaust survivors are under the age of 70; 44 percent are between 70 and 80; and 55 percent are over 80. The report's authors estimate that by 2025, only 48,000 of the survivors in Israel will still be alive. "The thousands of survivors still among us cannot be allowed to live without dignity," said Elazar Stern, who chairs the Israeli Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims. "One of our tasks is to see to it that awareness of their needs is translated into means that make assistance to the needy among them possible. The younger generation will not forgive us if we don't care for the members of the older generation with the dignity they deserve."

samedi 21 avril 2012

Holocaust survivors struggling to make ends meet in Israel

Ros Dayan describes her experience of the Nazis' persecution of Jews in Bulgaria and how she survived the Holocaust. Now living in Israel, she says she doesn't have enough money to buy food or clothes. Ros is one of a growing proportion of Holocaust survivors in Israel who cannot make ends meet

lundi 16 avril 2012

Not All Jews Have Money: Tragedy Inspires New Documentary

Not All Jews Have Money: Tragedy Inspires New Documentary

Apr 16 2012

Do American Jews really have money? That is the burning question that French filmmaker Sasha Andreas (picture above) asks himself after volunteering in a Kibbutz in Israel. He decided to figure this out in a new documentary. “I’m not Jewish myself, but I have met a lot of Jewish people in my life, including when I was in Israel,” Andreas tells Abanibi.“In the kibbutz there were only two or three families who were rich.”

This is how the idea for “Jews got Money,” or as they spell it provocatively, “J£w$ Got Mon€¥”, was born. “My motivation for this film is to debunk the myth that all Jewish people have money. I think it’s a very dangerous cliché and this ignorance fuels hatred.”

Do you have an example of why this prejudice is dangerous?

“There was a story in my home country, France, about the young Ilan Halimi who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by a gang who assumed that he “had money” because he was a Jew. You and I know, it is not true, many Jewish people have lived and still live in poverty, even in the US.”
For his documentary, currently in pre-production with plans to shoot in New York next month, Andreas is looking to Jewish people living in poverty in New York City and also philanthropists and associations who are focused on helping them. “It is important to talk about solidarity, and it will hopefully help them attract donations,” he says.

“Jews Got Money” will be Andreas’ first documentary. He teamed up with producer Anna Heim, who’s an online journalist at The Next Web, with a background in film & TV distribution, and also involved experienced film editor Ludovic Schoendoerffer (son of late Oscar winner Pierre Schoendoerffer) who lives in Paris. “Our documentary will be in English in order to reach an international audience,” he says, “hopefully on TV and in theaters, but also at festivals and schools around the world.”

For any ideas and interview suggestions you can contact “Jews Got Money” on Twitter: @jewsgottwitt3r or send us an email to and we’ll forward it to the production.

samedi 14 avril 2012

$10 million Holocaust survivors' Emergency Fund Launched ‎

(article from 2010)

New York - The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the United States, announced today that it has established a new, five-year, $10 million grant to fund emergency services for Holocaust survivors residing in North America through the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (The Claims Conference). The Weinberg Holocaust Survivors Emergency Assistance Fund (“The Weinberg Fund”) will fund a range of emergency services to survivors, including medical equipment and medications, dental care, transportation, food, and short-term home care.

It is estimated that there are more than 500,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide, with more than 144,000 victims living in North America. The remaining Nazi victims live mostly in Israel and the Former Soviet Union. The average age of a Nazi victim is 79 years with nearly one-quarter of victims 85-years-old or older. One in four aging survivors lives alone in the U.S. and an estimated 37% live at or below the poverty level, a level that is five times the rate of other senior citizens in the U.S.

The Weinberg Fund will provide the financial resources needed to supplement critical services for Holocaust survivors in the communities where they reside. The Weinberg Foundation is one of the largest private Jewish foundations in the U.S., with a mission to fund nonprofits that assist vulnerable populations. For decades, the Foundation has focused much of its efforts within that broad mission on poor older adults and the Jewish community.

Many aging victims of the Holocaust require assistance to meet their basic needs for shelter, food and medical care,” said Rachel Monroe, president of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. “The grant for emergency assistance is expected to help at least 10,000 Nazi victims living in poverty throughout North America. The Weinberg Foundation remains committed to honoring these courageous men and women whose memories we call upon to educate the world today and for generations to come.”
Judge Ellen M. Heller, a Trustee of the Weinberg Foundation, stated, “The Weinberg Fund gives recognition to the increasing medical and social welfare needs of the aging Jewish Holocaust victims in North America as they enter the final chapter of their lives. No amount of money can compensate these victims of Nazi persecution for the horrors they have suffered. However, the Weinberg Fund will provide crucial assistance and allow these older adults to live out their remaining years with dignity and respect.”
The Weinberg Holocaust Survivor Emergency Assistance Fund will be administered and managed by the highly respected Claims Conference based in New York. The Claims Conference was founded in 1951 when representatives of 23 major national and international Jewish organizations from eight countries met in New York to seek restitution for Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Since its formation, the Claims Conference has continually sought to secure Holocaust-related benefits for victims of the Holocaust resulting in $60 billion in restitution from the German government. Today, the Claims Conference manages grants made by governments and funders throughout the world. The nonprofit has a structure currently in place for emergency assistance grants that will ensure the swift and effective distribution of funds for services.
During the past two decades, the Weinberg Foundation has distributed $6.3 million in grants to 54 different organizations serving Holocaust survivors throughout North America. Upon the conclusion of this grant in 2014, the Weinberg Foundation will have given more than $16 million to support Holocaust survivors in North America. In addition, the Weinberg Foundation has granted millions of dollars to nonprofits that provide direct services to Holocaust survivors and other poor, older adults throughout Israel and the Former Soviet Union, where the majority of survivors reside today.
“The Claims Conference is honored to work in partnership with the Weinberg Foundation to address the increasing needs of elderly Jewish victims of Nazism,” said Julius Berman, chairman of the Claims Conference. “Every day, Holocaust victims with very limited means have to cope with the costs of housing, medicine, food, and other vital needs that they often cannot meet. We hope that the generosity and vision of the Weinberg Foundation will galvanize support for these heroes of the Jewish people.”
Claims Conference Executive Vice President Greg Schneider stated, “Aging Jewish Holocaust victims, abandoned by the world in their youth must now know that they are remembered and cared for in their final years. The Claims Conference is grateful to the Weinberg Foundation for recognizing and responding to the basic needs of so many Nazi victims. Together, we must continue to take on the moral imperative to ensure that Holocaust victims live out their years in a manner befitting the courage and resilience they displayed and the suffering they endured.”
The grant will provide $1 million in 2010, $2.5 million in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and $1.5 million in 2014.

Loans Without Profit Help Relieve Economic Pain

When Hirshy Minkowicz was growing up in a Hasidic enclave of Brooklyn 30 years ago, he often noticed visitors arriving after dinner to meet with his father. They would withdraw into the study, speak for a time, then part with some confidential agreement having been sealed.

As he grew into his teens, Hirshy came to learn that his father operated a traditional Jewish free-loan program called a gemach. The visitors, many of them teachers in local religious schools, struggling to raise their families on small and irregular salaries, had been coming to borrow money at no interest and with no public exposure.

Now 39 years old and serving as the rabbi of a Chabad center near Atlanta, Rabbi Minkowicz has done something he never expected: open a gemach that deals primarily with non-Orthodox Jews in a prosperous stretch of suburbia. The reason, quite simply, is the prolonged downturn in the American economy, which has driven up the number of Jews identified by one poverty expert as the “middle-class needy.”

The same phenomenon has appeared in Jewish communities across the country, albeit most often in those with existing Orthodox populations already familiar with the gemach system. This institution, rooted in biblical and Talmudic teachings and whose name is a contraction of the Hebrew words for “bestowal of kindness” (“gemilut chasadim”), is now meeting needs created by such resolutely modern causes as subprime mortgages, outsourcing and credit default swaps.

“I honestly never thought, in my realm here, to start a gemach,” Rabbi Minkowicz said in a recent interview. “I thought people wouldn’t understand it. It’d be a foreign concept. They hadn’t grown up that way. But definitely, definitely, definitely the economy now is the worst. The 13 years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen people go from a regular life to rags. I’ve seen that up-front and personal.”

It is difficult to determine the exact dimensions of the economy’s impact on the Jewish population in general and on the surge in the use of gemachs specifically. The loan programs, often financed and run by families, operate on the basis of anonymity. Governmental statistics on poverty, unemployment, foreclosure and other such measures of the continuing malaise are not broken down by religion, as they are by race.

Still, the evidence points to an economic toll on Jews — not severe enough in most cases to plunge them into homelessness and destitution, or to qualify them for food stamps and Medicaid, but deep enough to destabilize what had been securely middle-class lives. Since the stock market collapse in late 2008 pushed the nation into recession, the demand for food and clothes from Jewish social service agencies and charities has risen by roughly 40 percent, according to their administrators.

This area of the middle-class needy has just exploded,” said William E. Rapfogel, the chief executive of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which covers the New York area. “We’ve seen people who were making $75,000, even $200,000, lose a substantial portion of income. When they lose a job, they get another, but it’s a job for less. They’re so over-leveraged in their homes, they can’t get out. If they sold, they wouldn’t take out a nickel.”

On Staten Island, the borough of New York most akin to a suburb, Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss of the Agudas Yisroel synagogue has seen that situation. In the past, Jews in his community used gemachs primarily to borrow items they needed for only a limited time: a wedding dress, rubber bins for moving furniture, a wig to cover hair lost to chemotherapy, even breast milk for a nursing child. Over the last several years, however, the gemachs have increasingly dispensed cash loans and groceries.

“People have been so taken by shock,” Rabbi Weiss said. “Picture yourself, God forbid, having to take a can of tuna from someone. It’s almost like the soup lines of the Great Depression.”

The gemach system, however, offers two tangible differences. First, as a matter of religious teaching and longstanding custom, a gemach makes no profit on its loans. Second, the tradition of confidentiality, rooted in Judaic commentaries about giving and receiving charity, allows a supplicant to save face.

“When it’s within your own group, it’s less embarrassing,” Rabbi Weiss said. “You feel your compadre understands and is doing it out of love.”

In suburban Atlanta, Rabbi Minkowicz had similar thoughts in mind last August, when a congregant approached him with an idealistic but unformed proposal. The man had seen the toll that corporate layoffs and the cratered housing market had taken on the local Jewish community. He and his wife, both professionals in public-sector jobs, had saved $5,000 to do something about it. Their question was what.

At that point, Rabbi Minkowicz explained about gemach, a word the donor had never heard. What impressed the man immediately, in this era of celebrity charities and naming rights, was the quality of humility. A borrower would not be subjected to a credit check or required to put up collateral, only to have another member of the Jewish community co-sign. The donor could remain unknown.

“I could help people without seeming like I’m showing off,” the man said. Indeed, he spoke for this column only on the promise that his identity not be revealed.

By now, four months later, the resulting gemach has made two loans of about $1,000 apiece, with a third imminent. As those borrowers repay the gemach, at the rate of roughly $100 a month, Rabbi Minkowicz can in turn recycle the money to others who need it.

All of which puts him in mind of those knocks on the door in Brooklyn decades ago, and of the decorous way his father answered. “I’ve tried to use the same model I saw,” Rabbi Minkowicz put it. “You help the people who are struggling. And you try to preserve their dignity.”

Food Bank For New York City Launches Passover Virtual Food Drive

New York - This year food charities are using a new tool to bust old myths about who they serve across the city and in the Bronx.

The Food Bank for New York City has launched a Passover virtual food drive, which lets donors choose what kosher foods they will give to struggling Jewish neighbors, just as if they were doing online grocery shopping.
It also lets people know that hunger affects those of every creed and culture.
“Tools like the virtual food drive allow us to tell a better story about who is hungry,” said Food Bank President and CEO Margarette Purvis. “So many people still believe we are only serving homeless people. No. It’s people with college degrees, people who lost a job. It’s everyday people.

Thousands of Hanukkah and Passover meals are distributed each year by the Bronx Jewish Community Council, mostly to homebound seniors without families to celebrate holidays with them.
BJCC’s Director of Operations, Rose Turshen, said she hopes the online food drive will get young people thinking about this forgotten population.
“We are really excited about this virtual food drive,” Turshen said. “I think this is really unique and innovative. My generation, we don’t write checks.”
Turshen is 28. She said younger people are more likely to donate online, she said. “I really think this is going to drive some new online donations.”
A holiday like Passover, during which observant Jews must stock their kitchens entirely with kosher food, can create a devastating expense for people quietly struggling with poverty, Purvis said.
The Food Bank will give all proceeds from the drive to the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which fed more than 50,000 Jewish families last Passover. This year the Met Council has committed to provide more than 2 million pounds of Kosher food to needy Jewish families.

To donate, visit the Food Bank’s website at

Cash-strapped Jewish families will get pre-paid debit cards to pay Passover costs

Without help, many Jewish families in New York could not afford to properly observe Passover.

With that in mind, about 15,000 homes will be issued pre-paid debit cards — worth $50 to $300 depending on family size — to defray the cost of special holiday preparations that center around avoiding leavened foods.

It’s the first time the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty is issuing the American Express cards, asking 60 sites — including their 25 satellite neighborhood Jewish Community Councils — to spread the word among local families.

There is a sense that Jewish poverty is an oxymoron, people don’t think that there are poor Jews out there,” said Met Council CEO Willie Rapfogel. “Passover is a time of year when people ask for help. Everything in the ‘fridge and pantry can’t be used. They need everything.”

Religious law requires that people scrub their homes clean before Passover - removing any signs of starchy foods and then replacing normal kitchen supplies with sets that have never touched banned food and provisions.

A family of four can easily drop $1,000 on groceries and fresh pots and pans in preparation for the eight-day holiday, Rapfogel said.

“It’s hard. We don’t qualify for Medicaid or food stamps,” said Esti Rosenblatt, 30, using a $200 card to shop near her Crown Heights home. “We just had to sell our car.”

Rosenblatt, 30, a part-time nonprofit coordinator, and her husband Itamar, 33, a social worker, were already struggling to pay the mortgage on their three-bedroom condo and cover treatments for their 5-year-old son

Shmuel, who suffers from eosinophilic gastrointestinal disorder (EGID).

“Any help this time of year helps,” Rosenblatt said.

Washington Heights resident Michael Vaystub, 70, said he and his 69-year-old wife just do get by on Social Security. He said they’ll use their $100 card to purchase enough matzoh ball soup and gefilte fish to get them through the holiday.

“The price in stores are up. And the money is down,” Vaystub. “That’s why having this card is very important.”

Before the cards, Met Council allowed people to use paper vouchers at kosher grocery shops across the city.

“The voucher was too complicated. Our customers speak Russian and they didn’t understand what items they could get,” said Michael Jaffe, owner of Kosher Palace in Sheepshead Bay, one of 60 stores and shops that will honor the special debit cards.

mercredi 11 avril 2012

Hungry for soup kitchens: 3 new Masbias set for Jewish nabes in Brooklyn and Queens

When the kosher soup kitchen Masbia opened in Borough Park nearly four years ago, it served a total of eight patrons.

"Now, we have nights when we go over 200," said Alexander Rapaport, Masbia's executive director. And the need is growing.

With hunger and poverty growing in the Jewish community, Masbia is now planning to open three more kosher soup kitchens - two in Brooklyn and one in Queens. The first on Lee St. in Williamsburg is expected to open in June.

Among Jewish communities in Brooklyn, Williamsburg has the highest level of poverty, with 64% of households earning less than $35,000, according to a UJA-Federation study.

The council is looking for a second site somewhere in southern Brooklyn to serve needy residents in Midwood, Flatbush, Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach and Coney Island.

The third kitchen will be in central Queens to serve Jackson Heights, Rego Park, Forest Hills and Kew Gardens.

"We're focusing on the areas with the highest concentrations of poor, working poor and middle-class people who have lost jobs and can't make ends meet," said William Rapfogel, director of Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which is partnering with Masbia in operating the soup kitchens.

The new facilities will be patterned after Masbia, which is set up like a restaurant, with artificial plants surrounding tables to offer diners a sense of privacy.

"This is about making sure people have a dignified way to have a meal in a clean, safe environment," Rapfogel said.

Social workers will regularly visit to make sure diners take advantage of other services they might be eligible for, such as children's insurance or Medicaid.

Rapaport said he was concerned particularly about the increasing numbers of children being brought to Masbia for meals. On a recent night, he counted 61 youngsters.

"We used to average around 20 a day," Rapaport said.

The downturn in the economy has led to a rise in middle-class diners at Masbia, Rapaport said. "Their shame is so much bigger. They don't know where to call for food stamps. They don't know where food pantries are. People have just fallen into this situation."

Soup kitchens will be kosher, classy

An upscale Midwood kosher restaurant that closed in May will soon reopen as a kosher soup kitchen, offering a fine dining experience, complete with waiter service.

Orthodox Jews will be treated to food prepared by a self-taught chef who has never cooked outside the home.

But chef Aaron Sender, 34, landed the job at Masbia with a can-do attitude and belief in community building through eating. "Breaking bread with people and sharing in a joyful, celebratory way is something that's really nourishing," said Sender, who grew up in Borough Park.

Despite his inexperience, Sender will soon be cooking hundreds of meals a day for Masbia's new locations in Midwood, Williamsburg and Rego Park - all set to open in the coming weeks - and its existing site in Borough Park.

The five-course dinners will be prepared in Midwood, then delivered to the other soup kitchens, which are modeled after restaurants, with dividers to provide privacy, and will include waiters to make the experience feel more dignified.

"We think so many people don't come because they're embarrassed," said Masbia Executive Director Alexander Rapaport. "But it's going to be uplifting for them."

Rapaport was not worried about Sender's culinary background, because mass producing food doesn't require as much skill as fine dining.

"When you think of a restaurant, you think of a menu with fancy recipes. But in a soup kitchen, you just cook bulk."

Sender, whose resume includes stints as a science journalist and a laborer on an organic farm, was slightly nervous about the task ahead of him, but promised success.

"I'm an improviser," he said. "I'll do whatever it takes."

Two or three other workers will assist him in the galley.

Most dinners will consist of chicken, mashed potatoes, another vegetable side, soup and dessert, but Sender hopes to eventually include diverse ethnic cuisine.

Officials from Masbia decided to expand their services into other neighborhoods when they saw hunger and poverty growing in Jewish communities.

Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, said his group, which runs a food pantry, is delivering hundreds more meals per week than last year.

"So many families are almost in chaos," said William Rapfogel, executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which is providing funding for Masbia's expansion. "We're seeing people who've never had a financial problem in their entire lives."

mardi 10 avril 2012

Jewish Poverty Deepens in New York City

Both the depth and distribution of Jewish poverty in New York City has increased during the past decade, according to a new study.

The study found that nearly 60% of Jews living in Brooklyn’s heavily ultra-Orthodox Williamsburg neighborhood live in poverty.

More surprising to some observers is the finding that the number of poor has risen sharply in both the Bronx and Queens, outside historic centers of Jewish poverty in Brooklyn.

These findings were contained in a new study of Jewish poverty unveiled Tuesday at the offices of the UJA-Federation of New York, which sponsored the work along with the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. The “Report on Jewish Poverty” is a detailed analysis of the preliminary poverty figures given in the Jewish Community Study of New York, which was released last summer and was based on phone interviews from 2002.

Many activists in the Jewish community were shocked by the finding that nearly 21% of Jews in New York City live at less than 150% of the federal poverty line, the standard used to define poverty in this study. That amounts to $13,290 for a one-person household and $27, 150 for a four-person household.

That figure represented a sharp rise from the levels of Jewish poverty in 1991, when the last study was done.

Another 10%, or 104,000 New York-area Jews, live in households with incomes of less than $35,000 a year, and report they are struggling to “make ends meet.” Experts say this group of near poor is often more vulnerable than the poor because they are ineligible for government benefits.

The more detailed examination unveiled this week found higher levels of poverty in vulnerable neighborhoods, as well as an increasing spread of poverty in New York beyond the traditional centers of poor Jews.

Communal leaders and poverty experts in attendance at the meeting this week were not optimistic about the new findings.

“This conference is in itself kind of disappointing,” said Menachem Lubinsky, the former president of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. “When I was young and idealistic, I believed that in the future a conference on Jewish poverty would not be needed.”

Instead, as presenter after presenter stressed, while the overall poverty level in New York City has declined over the past 10 years, poverty in the Jewish community has increased by 54%. The elderly, large Orthodox families and recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union account for more than 84% of the Jewish poor in New York.

That these groups were suffering the most did not come as a surprise to anti-poverty activists. But the intense levels of poverty came as a shock to many communal leaders. About 85% of Russian immigrants over the age of 65 live in poverty. In five neighborhoods with large immigrant and Orthodox communities, including Williamsburg, the rate of poverty jumped to more than 30%.

But the Jewish poor were not restricted to the old loci of poverty. The study found that in absolute terms, the greatest number of Jewish poor — 97,000 — were among working-age adults. The percentage of Jewish poor in both the Bronx and Queens doubled to 19%. Particularly in Queens, which has 42,700 Jews living in poverty, the study found that many of the poor were isolated from any Jewish communal organizations that might be able to help them.

The sharp rise in both the depth and distribution of Jewish poverty was attributed by the study’s authors, David Grossman and Jacob Ukeles, to the almost 105,000 Russian immigrants who moved to New York during the last 10 years, many of whom arrived nearly penniless.

When discussing the statistics on this immigrant community, Ukeles and Grossman departed from the general pessimism of the day. While the elderly immigrants are still overwhelmingly poor, the poverty level for young adults, ages 18 to 34, is only 29%, suggesting that many are discovering the quick economic success that had been a trademark of earlier Jewish immigrant communities.

In addition, Ukeles and Grossman gave a slightly more encouraging spin to one of the most discouraging findings of last summer’s report, which suggested that the Jewish poverty rate in New York City doubled, or rose 100%, during the past 10 years. The authors now say that because of changes in calculating methods, the percentage of increase should actually be lowered to 54%.

The most hopeful information for most attendees, though, was the mere appearance of the study itself, which they hope will focus renewed attention on poverty, a problem that many communal leaders say remains hidden to most of the community. This detailed study is one of only two or three community poverty studies in the United States, according to Ukeles.

The detailed poverty statistics will also help Jewish organizations improve their services to the poor, said Alisa Rubin Kurshan, vice president for strategic planning at UJA-Federation. “It’s only once you have such detailed data that you can make the proper programming choices,” she said.

A Bronx Tale.

After the congregants of an Orthodox synagogue could no longer afford their rent, they found help in the local mosque.

Near the corner of Westchester Avenue and Pugsley Street in Parkchester, just off the elevated tracks of the No. 6 train, Yaakov Wayne Baumann stood outside a graffiti-covered storefront on a chilly Saturday morning. Suited up in a black overcoat with a matching wide-brimmed black fedora, the thickly bearded 42-year-old chatted with elderly congregants as they entered the building for Shabbat service.

The only unusual detail: This synagogue is a mosque.

Or rather, it’s housed inside a mosque. That’s right: Members of the Chabad of East Bronx, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, worship in the Islamic Cultural Center of North America, which is home to the Al-Iman mosque.

“People have a misconception that Muslims hate Jews,” said Baumann. “But here is an example of them working with us.”

Indeed, though conventionally viewed as adversaries both here and abroad, the Jews and Muslims of the Bronx have been propelled into an unlikely bond by a demographic shift. The borough was once home to an estimated 630,000 Jews, but by 2002 that number had dropped to 45,100, according to a study by the Jewish Community Relations Council. At the same time, the Muslim population has been increasing. In Parkchester alone, there are currently five mosques, including Masjid Al-Iman.

“Nowhere in the world would Jews and Muslims be meeting under the same roof,” said Patricia Tomasulo, the Catholic Democratic precinct captain and Parkchester community organizer, who first introduced the leaders of the synagogue and mosque to each other. “It’s so unique.”

The relationship started years ago, when the Young Israel Congregation, then located on Virginia Avenue in Parkchester, was running clothing drives for needy families, according to Leon Bleckman, now 78, who was at the time the treasurer of the congregation. One of the recipients was Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, the founder of the Al-Iman Mosque, who was collecting donations for his congregants—many of whom are immigrants from Africa. The 49-year-old imam is an immigrant from Gambia in West Africa who came to the United States in 1986. After a year in Harlem, he moved to Parkchester, where he eventually founded the Muslim center and later established an Islamic grade school. Through that initial meeting, a rapport developed between the two houses of worship, and the synagogue continued to donate to the Islamic center, among other organizations.

But in 2003, after years of declining membership, Young Israel was forced to sell its building at 1375 Virginia Ave., according to a database maintained by Yeshiva University, which keeps historical records of synagogues. Before the closing, non-religious items were given away; in fact, among the beneficiaries was none other than Drammeh, who took some chairs and tables for his center.

Meanwhile, Bleckman and the remaining members moved to a nearby storefront location, renting it for $2,000 a month including utilities. With mostly elderly congregants, Young Israel struggled to survive financially and, at the end of 2007, was forced to close for good. The remaining congregants were left without a place to pray. During the synagogue’s farewell service, four young men from the Chabad Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights showed up. Three months earlier, Bleckman, then chairman of the synagogue’s emergency fund, had appealed for help from the Chabad.

“The boys from the Chabad said they came to save us,” said Bleckman. “We were crying.”

At this point, Chabad took over the congregational reins from Young Israel, with members officially adopting the new name Chabad of East Bronx. Still, for the next six to seven weeks, Bleckman said they could not even hold a service because they had nowhere to hold it.

When Drammeh learned of their plight, he immediately volunteered to accommodate them at the Muslim center at 2006 Westchester Ave.—for free.

“They don’t pay anything, because these are old folks whose income are very limited now,” said Drammeh, adding that he felt it was his turn to help the people who had once helped him and his community. “Not every Muslim likes us, because not every Muslim believes that Muslims and Jews should be like this,” Drammeh said, referring to the shared space. But “there’s no reason why we should hate each other, why we cannot be families.” Drammeh in particular admires the dedication of the Chabad rabbis, who walked 15 miles from Brooklyn every Saturday to run prayer services for the small Parkchester community. (...)

Jewish Americans Win Alms Race

New research finds Jewish-American families are more likely than those of other faiths to give to charities focusing on basic needs such as food and shelter.

Giving money to the poor is a doctrine of pretty much every religion, but a new study suggests some faiths are better than others at inspiring their followers to actually open their wallets.
Specifically, Jewish families in the U.S. are more likely than their Christian counterparts to contribute to charities focusing on providing basic necessities.
That’s the conclusion of a study by economist Mark Ottoni-Wilhelm, just published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. After controlling for various factors that influence giving, such as income, education and family size, he found support for organizations focusing on food and shelter “does not vary across Christian denominations and nonaffiliated families in any notable way.”
“However, Jewish families are both more likely to give, and, when they do give, give larger amounts,” adds Ottoni-Wilhelm, who is in the economics department of Indiana University-Purdue University - Indianapolis.
Ottoni-Wilhelm’s findings are based on data from the 2001, 2003 and 2005 waves of the Center on Philanthropy Panel Study, part of the Panel Study on Income Dynamics. Among the questions it posed to participants: “Did you, or anyone in your family, make any donation (in the previous year) to organizations that help people in need of food, shelter or other basic necessities?” A follow-up question asked: If so, how much?
He found 29 percent of American families donate to such organizations in a given year, with an average gift of $490. “This 29 percent is made up of three groups,” he notes. “Thirty percent are occasional givers who gave in only one of the three years observed; 37 percent are families who gave in two of the years; and 33 percent are regular givers who gave in all three years.”
So how does this break down in terms of religion? “Although simple descriptions of giving to basic necessity organizations reveal differences across Christian denominational identities,” he writes, “these differences disappear when other differences in income, wealth, ethnicity, etc. are controlled.”
Once those factors were taken out of the equation, Ottoni-Wilhelm found “no differences between Protestant families and Catholic families. No differences between mainline Protestant families and evangelical Protestant families.”
The only exception was Jewish families, who were, on average, significantly more generous than those of other faiths. Ottoni-Wilhelm argues the reason for this most likely lies in the means of persuasion favored by different religious cultures.
For most Christian denominations, arguments for aiding the needy are generally framed in terms of “stewardship, duty and reciprocity,” he writes, adding there is no evidence that any of those approaches are effective. The appeals to duty provided by pastors “are especially weak, because they do not frame that duty as a part of the member’s religious identity,” he argues.
In contrast, “Jewish philanthropy uses appeals to be generous that align well” with social-science research on how to effectively frame a request for help. He notes that Jewish appeals often connect “the needs of people who are poor to the Jewish history of enslavement in Egypt,” effectively forming an empathetic connection between the person giving money and the person receiving it.
Furthermore, “The literature on Jewish philanthropy emphasizes that giving to help people with basic needs is an essential part of Jewish identity,” he notes. “(It also) emphasizes a strong community norm behind giving.”
The apparent effectiveness of these appeals, alone or in combination, “might suggest ideas that can be transferred to other religious identities” looking for ways to encourage charitable giving, Ottani-Wilhelm concludes. Given the level of need in these tough economic times, such experimentation can’t come quickly enough.

dimanche 8 avril 2012

Holocaust survivors in L.A are still struggling

BY JANE ULMAN community_briefs/article/holocaust_survivors_in_la_are_still_struggling_20071130/

Joe Knobler. Photos by Jane Ulman

Joshua "Joe" Knobler used to go salsa dancing three times a week. He used to play cards with the guys every day. Now, 88, with both his health and finances failing, he sits home all day in his drab one-room apartment in Valley Village watching television.

"Television is my life," he said.

A Holocaust survivor who spent five years in Buchenwald, Knobler was married and divorced twice; both spouses are now deceased, and he is estranged from his children. He leaves his apartment door open all day, but no one stops by to say hello.

Knobler says he doesn't have enough money each month to buy food, get his clothes cleaned or purchase more than a single $5 can of bug spray to fight the cockroaches infesting his apartment.

Knobler used to make a decent living as a tailor. His industrial Singer sewing machine sits in the corner of his one-room apartment, now overcrowded with a queen-size bed, a hospital bed, a dresser and a couch. He explains that the sewing machine is broken; he can't afford a new needle.

He receives $939 in SSI (Supplemental Security Income) each month and pays $639 in rent. Of the $300 remaining, he spends $30 for the telephone, $60 for cable television and another $30 for medication, mostly for pain pills. He's had two back surgeries, one only 10 months ago, and lives with debilitating chronic pain. He has $2.44 in the bank.

"I don't get from nobody," he said.

But that's not exactly true; Knobler has been a Jewish Family Service (JFS) client for the past 10 years, part of the Survivors of the Holocaust Program. He receives eight hours a week in home care services, a monthly $100 Ralphs gift card and $50 a month in taxi vouchers. Additionally, a bag of groceries from SOVA is delivered to his apartment once a month.

Knobler, in fact, receives $2,500 a year in support services, an amount that has been capped for all indigent Holocaust survivors by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which provides $914,000 to JFS in Los Angeles annually to assist needy survivors.

But Knobler has actually received $5,300 in services already this year, thanks to two funds specifically earmarked for emergencies and other essentials for the estimated 3,000 poverty-stricken Holocaust survivors in Los Angeles.

For Knobler, these additional expenses included ambulance transportation (not reimbursed by Medi-Cal because of an unknown glitch in his citizenship papers filed in 1951, a problem being rectified by JFS) and new glasses.

One fund was created by Roz and Abner Goldstine, longtime JFS board members, who donated $250,000 after reading about the plight of Los Angeles' 3,000 indigent Holocaust survivors in a story last year in The Jewish Journal.

The fund, donated through The Jewish Federation's Premiere Philanthropy program, provides $50,000 a year, with the first year's contribution matched by a grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

With the Goldstine fund and with the ongoing $2 million Morgan Aging With Dignity Fund created six years ago by money manager and former Jewish Federation chair Todd Morgan, JFS is able to provide indigent survivors with additional home care hours (usually a weekly maximum of eight) and to cover such emergency expenses as utility bills, medications, transportation and other necessities.

"The need is great," said JFS Associate Executive Director Susie Forer-Dehrey, adding that last year's Jewish Journal article "shed light on how important it is to take care of survivors."

In addition to the Goldstine's gift, Forer-Dehrey noted that The Journal story triggered more than $20,000 in additional donations, much of it in small amounts, including one envelope with two crumbled dollar bills.

There are an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Holocaust survivors living in Los Angeles, according to Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon. Of these, 3,000 are determined to be financially needy, a figure based on a United Jewish Communities Report published December 2003, which found 25 percent of Holocaust victims in the United States living in poverty.

The Claims Conference defines needy as someone with income no more than 200 percent above the federal poverty level. In 2007, for a single person, that amounts to $20,420, with no more than $20,000 savings. For a couple, the amount is $27,380, with no more than $30,000 in savings.

And, perhaps surprisingly, the number of indigent survivors is increasing, more than six decades after the Holocaust.

"The whole population is living longer, and so are Holocaust survivors," said Paula Fern, director of JFS' Holocaust Survivor Program. Of the approximately 600 survivors that JFS is assisting, many are in their 80s and 90s, and five are more than 100 years old.

Fern explained that as they become older, they become frailer. As a result, they need more home care, which includes help with laundry, cleaning, bathing, grocery shopping, doctor visits and errands.

Also, according to Fern, survivors suffer from many more chronic illnesses than most elderly people, including heart disease, diabetes and asthma and breathing diseases. These are debilitating as well as costly, as they necessitate an average of 10 to 15 prescriptions monthly.

For survivors living on fixed incomes, these expenses add up. Plus, rents, as well as the cost of food, transportation and utilities, are increasing.

"There is a huge lack of affordable housing," said Fern, who noted that there is great resistance among Holocaust survivors to enter assisted-living facilities, whose institutional settings, no matter how cheerful and home-like, trigger unpleasant memories.

While JFS helps survivors with their psychosocial needs, Bet Tzedek addresses their legal issues. It is, in fact, the only Jewish legal services agency that offers free assistance with reparations, pensions and other benefits from Germany and other European countries.

Currently, Bet Tzedek has about 750 open files in their Holocaust reparations program.

Holocaust survivor Rosalie Greenfield fills out claims for reparations from the Hungarian government during a summer 2006 clinic run by Bet Tzedek. Photo courtesy of Bet Tzedek.

"Justice moves slowly," said Wendy Marantz Levine, deputy director of litigation. She explained that some cases have been open 10, 12 and even 15 years and are still awaiting responses. And the responses, when they do arrive, are often disappointing.

Last year, Bet Tzedek filed more than $2 million in reparations claims with the Hungarian government on behalf of 350 clients, who submitted a total of 1,300 claims for family members who perished in the Holocaust.

Of those 1,300 claims, which were filed more than a year ago, only two have been approved so far, and the money, about $2,200 for each person, has not yet been received. Additionally, of the claimants who have received responses, Levine said, "Sadly, about 15 percent of those have since passed away."

Still, Levine said that the Hungarian filing was one of the most incredible undertakings Bet Tzedek has ever done, processing all 1,300 applications, each taking about 10 hours, in a three-month period.

Bet Tzedek is gearing up again for another claims marathon. On Sept. 19, a new directive was issued by the German government in which a minimum of 150 Los Angeles-area survivors, possibly as many as 500, could receive symbolic compensation for "voluntary" work in Holocaust-era ghettoes. This would be a one-time payment of 2,000 Euros.

The first of an ongoing series of clinics for eligible survivors was held in late November, staffed by volunteer attorneys from several large Los Angeles law firms. Meanwhile, ongoing prescreening began on Thursday, Nov. 15, and survivors who believe they may qualify are urged to contact Bet Tzedek.

To properly assist Holocaust survivors with claims and to deal with ongoing needs such as medical treatments and increased pension payments, Bet Tzedek has upped its Holocaust program staffing.

While the program was previously administered by one full-time paralegal and one staff assistant, currently attorneys Lisa Hoffman and Volker Schmidt work full time as Holocaust Services Advocates, along with an assistant. Additionally, Levine devotes half her workday to Holocaust issues.

In order to process all the claims, an increasingly time-consuming process, Bet Tzedek relies on hundreds of volunteers, as well as its staff.

"The longer away from the actual events, the more the survivors' memories fade," said Schmidt, who is licensed to practice law in both the United States and Germany. "And with time, it becomes more difficult to track down necessary paperwork."

The money, however, is important to the survivors.

"The amounts of money sound so trivial, such as $2,200 for your lost son," Levine said. "But, unfortunately, for a lot of our clients, they are at the point in their lives where that $2,200 could make a difference in being able to pay bills or not."

Others, who may not need the money, still feel that the German government should pay for what they did.

Rosalie Greenfield, 84, who lives in a Fairfax-area duplex she owns with her husband, has enough money from reparations and Social Security to cover her basic needs. Still, she has lived in pain all her life and believes her monthly pension of $1,400 should be doubled.

"They broke my back in Bergen-Belsen. They should take care of me better," she said.

For some survivors, such as those who cannot meet their monthly mortgage payments or who have lost all their benefits with the death of a spouse, the problems are much greater than what JFS or Bet Tzedek can handle. For others, nothing could ever fill the hole in their lives that the Holocaust created.

But when it comes to those who struggle financially, the situation is less dire if they have a social network.

Henri Opas, 84, a retired cook and caterer (photo above), has monthly rent and other expenses that exceed his Social Security income of just over $800. To supplement, JFS provides eight hours of home care weekly and a $100 Ralphs gift card.

Opas, a widower for 18 years with a daughter on the East Coast, maintains an active social life. A thrice-wounded soldier who escaped from Poland at 16 and fought in the French Free Army as well as the Israel Defense Forces, he spends his days at the Disabled American Veterans Hall in Woodland Hills.

Additionally, Opas has a next-door neighbor, a young mother from El Salvador with two small children, who has befriended him. He also still drives and has cousins in Agoura who help with car expenses and insurance.

"If anybody needs anything more than I do, please give it to him. I'm sufficient. I don't need no more," he said.

In reality, the survivors need more and more services. And it takes money to provide them.

But people are not eager to donate.

"Look, it's easy to raise money to put someone's name on a museum. It's very tough to get money to help these people," said Morgan of the Morgan Aging With Dignity Fund.

To help assess future needs more accurately, The Jewish Federation has commissioned a Jewish Senior Community Assessment, which will include Holocaust survivors, Dragon said.

Led by demographer Bruce Phillips, professor of Jewish communal service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the study will revise and reinterpret data from the 1997 population study to see how seniors' needs have changed. Results are expected in early 2008.

Additionally, JFS is planning a major outreach in early 2008 to unserved and unaffiliated survivors in the San Fernando Valley. The organization is also targeting survivors from the former Soviet Union living in the San Fernando Valley and in Santa Monica.

Forer-Dehrey said that JFS is committed to serving the Holocaust population as long as necessary. She cites a phone call she received from a survivor in her 80s who lives in West Hollywood.

"For four years in Auschwitz I never had a shower. I think at the end of my life I deserve a shower," the survivor said. "We would like to give that woman enough help so she can have a shower every day," Forer-Dehrey said.

Many aging Shoah survivors are living a new nightmare

Sammy Moscovitz sits alone in his drab one-room Los Angeles apartment watching cable TV and wondering how he ended up like this.

Like the frayed sweatshirt he wears, the 75-year-old Holocaust survivor looks tired and a bit rundown. He owns a bed, a dresser, a television, some clothing and little else. Racked with pain and plagued by various ailments, he points to five bottles of pills and complains that he sometimes rations them because of the high cost.

The Romanian-born Moscovitz has no children, and his wife died years ago. He has a caregiver, Candace Harbin, who is paid by the state to cook, clean and make meals for him 23 hours a week. That helps. Yet when she takes him out for coffee or a meal, Harbin says, Moscovitz sometimes wants to return home after just five minutes because of his pain.

Without medical insurance, Moscovitz lost his house 15 years ago, after a stroke and heart problems sent him to the hospital for an extended stay, which he paid for with his savings. On a recent day, he had $300 to his name, with outstanding debts of $180 and counting.

The phone rings. He debates whether to answer it. Chances are, Moscovitz says, it's a bill collector. It's always a bill collector these days. Against his better judgment, he picks up the receiver. A kind voice greets him and asks how he's doing.

"Fine," Moscovitz says, before quickly ending the call. "That was some Jewish group," he says matter-of-factly in his rasp of a voice. "They want to see if I'm dead."

Moscovitz is one of the tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors living in abject poverty in the United States. These witnesses to the 20th century's worst atrocity are enduring a second nightmare, often struggling just to feed and clothe themselves.

Their wartime experiences, which included malnutrition and physical and psychological abuse, have made them prone to costly medical and mental problems as they age. Having depleted their savings or worked at low-paying jobs without pensions, they now largely subsist on government Social Security and disability checks, along with some assistance from Jewish organizations, and, if they are lucky, financial compensation from Germany and the other European countries that sent them to concentration camps, conscripted them into forced labor battalions and decimated their families.

An estimated 25 percent of the 122,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States live below the poverty line, according to a report issued in December 2003 by the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella organization for the nation's federations. Because the UJC based its findings on data from 2000-2001, many observers believe that the number of survivors has fallen to about 100,000. But with the typical victim approaching 80 and often spending much of his income on high-priced drugs and medical care, the poverty rate may now approach 33 percent.

In Los Angeles, which is home to some of the world's wealthiest Jews, two Holocaust museums and affluent and heavily Jewish neighborhoods such as Brentwood and Bel Air, an estimated 3,000 of city's 10,000 to 12,000 Holocaust victims live at or below the poverty line, according to Andrew Cushnir, vice president for planning for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Largely invisible to many in the community, impoverished survivors often exist at subsistence levels as shut-ins in aging apartments or in dilapidated homes they can no longer afford to repair. In many ways, they have become the forgotten people.

Which is not to say that some Jews haven't stepped up to help after learning about their difficult circumstances. For example, after the publication of an article about Bet Tzedek's work on behalf of Hungarian survivors, an anonymous donor gave the Jewish nonprofit legal aid society a much-needed gift of $100,000.

"That was a nice surprise," Bet Tzedek Executive Director Mitchell Kamin said. But there have been too few nice surprises, experts say.

Area Jewish philanthropists "seem to have a strong desire to give money in remembrance of the Holocaust to a Holocaust museum, but are not as generous in helping the survivors themselves," said Todd Morgan, former chairman of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and creator of the Morgan Aging With Dignity Fund, which pays for food, medicine and transportation for poor victims, among other needs.

Morgan, a money manager, said he started his $2 million fund five years ago after an indigent victim asked him for $400 for heart medication. Morgan approached several big donors, educated them about the struggles faced by many survivors and asked for contributions. He raised $200,000, much less than he expected. Morgan said he has never again tapped the Jewish community for survivor money.

To be sure, many Holocaust victims have flourished in America and have led productive, full lives. They have become doctors, lawyers, congressman and corporate titans. Still, many have suffered greatly, especially those who immigrated to the United States after 1965, according to the UJC report on Holocaust victims in America.

Survivors who came to the United States more recently, many of them from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, appear to have had a harder time acclimating, in part because of language problems. Whatever the reasons, on the whole, this population has more financial problems, as well as physical and mental health disabilities than survivors who came to America earlier, the study says.

Regardless of when they immigrated, many survivors grapple with indelible scars.

Based on more than 50 years of experience ministering to more than 100 Holocaust victims and their families, social worker Florabel Kinsler, formerly of Jewish Family Service (JFS) Los Angeles, estimates that about half of all victims are still experiencing, or have suffered from, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The mental and physical hell they endured during the war, she said, produced an abundance of corticosteroids in their bodies, which weakened their immune systems and has made them susceptible to lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's Disease, a stomach disorder. Many of those survivors' children have also inherited a form of PTSD and might suffer from similar afflictions, Kinsler added.

Survivors with PTSD often have nightmares, become easily disturbed by loud noises, have difficulty keeping their emotions in check and tend to be controlling, a quality that often causes heightened friction between them and their offspring. "Survivors often lack the physical and emotional glue to keep going," Kinsler said.

To help address their growing needs, several local Jewish agencies have, for years, offered survivors an array of services. Now, executives from The Federation, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and Bet Tzedek, which helps victims file compensation claims, are in discussions on how to do more.

"We have an obligation and a responsibility to help," Los Angeles Federation President John Fishel said.

Yet, despite communal agencies' best efforts, they lack the resources to provide all of the needed services all of the time, said Lisa Brooks, director of communications and donor relations at JFS.

"We can take care of the basics, but sometimes people's needs go beyond that," Brooks said.

Whether because of pride, ignorance or extreme physical and metal isolation, some desperate survivors fail to avail themselves of existing services and receive no help.

In the 12 month period, which ended June 30, Jewish Family Service spent $2.1 million on programs for about 700 local survivors, or an average of $3,000 a person, a 17 percent total increase in spending over 2005, said Susie Forer-Dehrey, the agency's associate executive director. Among other services, JFS offers taxi vouchers for doctors' visits, in-house cleaning and cooking, counseling, adult day care, free groceries, emergency medical grants and referrals to nursing homes with staffs trained to care for survivors.

When JFS gets involved, the agency can really make a difference. Take the case of the late George Kukawka, a survivor who died earlier this year at 86 from congestive heart failure.

Kukawka's nephew, Ron Wolfson, a professor of education at the University of Judaism, said that a JFS social worker attended to his uncle's needs for more than a decade. She arranged for Kukawka to have hot meals delivered to his house, helped him find a high-quality subsidized apartment in the San Fernando Valley and, when Kukawka's health deteriorated, helped secure him a spot at the Jewish Home for the Aging.

"The community really rallied to care for Uncle George and did it with the Jewish value of honoring the elderly with dignity," Wolfson said. Born in Poland, Kukawka was forced by the Germans to load trucks in the Warsaw Ghetto. On one occasion, he received a brutal beating that nearly killed him and left him deaf in his right ear. Escaping in 1942, he hid in a Polish forest until the war's end.

Coming to the United States in 1951, Kukawka moved to Los Angeles a year later and found factory work as a welder. Despite the fresh start, nightmares plagued him, as did his health, which began its slow downward spiral when he developed asthma and emphysema in his 40s. Kukawka never married.

With no savings or pension, Kukawka relied heavily on his monthly government check of $1,079, most of which came from Social Security. If not for the assistance given to him by JFS, Wolfson said, Kukawka's "life would have been significantly more difficult."

Like JFS, Bet Tzedek has programs specially tailored to assist Holocaust victims. One of the nation's only Jewish-run legal aid service agencies, Bet Tzedek has helped 3,000 mostly local survivors apply for restitution and reparations and "fight for their rights as vociferously as possible," said Mark Rothman, the nonprofit's Holocaust services advocate.

Rothman's program is funded, in part, by an annual $50,000 grant from The L.A. Federation. He said his job is to help victims navigate their way through the often-confusing process of applying for compensation from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany or the Claims Conference, as well as from foreign governments and international programs that offer restitution.

Rothman currently has four part-time law clerks and one part-time staffer working with him to help clients determine which funds they qualify for; to fill out applications that sometimes must be translated from German, and to draft appeals in the event of rejections.

Without Rothman's assistance, many victims would likely never apply for compensation due the complexity and restrictions of several of the funds. The Article 2 Fund, for one, which was created in 1992 after lengthy negotiations between the Claims Conference and the newly reunified Germany, represents an attempt to compensate survivors who had previously received little or no indemnification.

However, the fund has several restrictions imposed by the German government. To qualify, a victim must have been incarcerated for at least six months in a concentration camp, lived illegally under false identity for at least 18 months, hid from the Nazis under inhumane conditions for at least 18 months or been imprisoned for at least 18 months in a Jewish ghetto, as defined by the German government.

A survivor who spent only five months in a concentration camp or 17 months in a ghetto does not qualify. There are also income restrictions. Applicants with annual incomes in excess of $16,000 for a single person and $21,000 per married couple, excluding Social Security, are ineligible.

Over the past 55 years, more than 500,000 Holocaust survivors in 75 countries have received financial compensation as a result of the work of the Claims Conference, said Hillary Kessler-Godin, director of communications for the Claims Conference. Victims who spent time in concentration camps, worked as slave laborers, were subject to medical experiments or who had their properties seized by Nazis and their allies have received some form of compensation and restitution. The Claims Conference has also allocated about $1 billion to organizations, including L.A.'s JFS, for social services and Shoah education. And for many indigent victims, Article 2's $320 monthly payments or the one-time $3,000 Hardship Fund allocation can make a big difference.

Yet not everyone applying for compensation receives it. The Claims Conference rejects nearly one in five Article 2 applicants. Sometimes survivors meet the requirements, but still are denied because of application errors or an inability to produce birth certificates and other decades-old documents, Bet Tzedek's Rothman said. The Claims Conference inspires strong reactions among survivors, who often laud it or lambaste it, said Michael Bazyler, a law professor at Whittier Law School in Orange County and author of "Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America's Courts" and co-editor of "Holocaust Restitution: Perspectives on the Litigation and Its Legacy." Bazyler believes that the conference, like other large organizations, "may not be as responsive as it should be to the needs" of those it's designed to serve.

Claims Conference board member Sam Bloch defends the process.

"We're trying to get as much money as possible from all different sources to provide as much as we can for hundreds of thousands of needy survivors," said Bloch, who also serves as senior vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, a New York-based national organization. "It's a complicated operation, but I think we're meeting our historical obligations and doing an extraordinarily good job."

Bella Zucker tells a different story.

In September, the wheelchair-bound, 77-year-old survivor of a Romanian labor camp learned that the Claims Conference had turned down her petition for Article 2 compensation. The reason: Information in her application differed from what was said to have been contained in an application her mother had submitted more than 50 years earlier for a special German pension for Holocaust survivors. The Claims Conference, Zucker said, declined to identify the discrepancies. Bet Tzedek plans to file an appeal.

"I feel like I'm victimized again," said Zucker, who survives on $832 a month in Social Security and disability payments. Just Zucker's monthly rent for her 800-square-foot house is $700.

Zucker lives in the dusty town of Hemet in Riverside County, with two of her four children. Her life has had its share of challenges.

At the beginning of World War II, she said, German soldiers executed her two teenage brothers in the streets during a pogrom. Later, Germans deported her father to Predeal, Romania, to work in the rock mines. After the war, he was a broken man.

In 1939, soldiers took 9-year-old Zucker and her mother, Chana, to a synagogue in the center of their hometown of Jassy, where they and other female prisoners slept on cold floors and survived on scraps of food thrown to them by Nazis.

The Zuckers scrubbed floors, washed windows, peeled potatoes and cleaned and dried clothes for German soldiers. At night, the young girl had to protect her meager food rations, lest another hungry child steal them. Zucker said she can still hear the tear-stained voices of three Hungarian girls repeatedly asking their mother why they had no bread, margarine and potatoes.

In 1940, Germans loaded Zucker, her mother and other Jews onto a train with blackened windows. Zucker said it was so dark she couldn't even see her mother beside her. Nobody expected to survive.

A few hours later, Zucker and her mother arrived at a Romanian labor camp, where they spent the next five years scrubbing, scouring and suffering. At war's end, the 15-year-old Zucker looked like a skeleton.

After the war, Zucker made her way to Israel, where her parents later joined her. An Orthodox Jew and ardent Zionist, she served as a helicopter nurse in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence and suffered four leg wounds. She remained in the Israeli reserves until she immigrated to America, nearly two decades later.

In Israel, she married Chaim Zucker, also a Holocaust survivor, and had four children. Chaim Zucker supported his family as a manual laborer. After the Six-Day War, the Zuckers, tired of Israel's violence and stress, moved to Detroit, where Chaim Zucker's two surviving sisters lived.

He worked for 10 years as a carpenter at a local Jewish Community Center, earning $6.25 an hour with no pension benefits. As with many Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States later in life, Chaim Zucker's limited language skills and lack of a college degree made it difficult for him to get higher-paying jobs. Money was always tight, but somehow the family got by.

The Zuckers moved to the Southern California desert in the mid-1980s and later to Orange County after Chaim Zucker's death in 1992. Around that time, Bella Zucker had a falling out with two of her sons, with whom she now maintains only sporadic contact. After a lifetime of hardship and heartache, Zucker's health began to decline.

In the late 1990s, Sara Zucker, her daughter, quit her job as an office manager to care for her sick mother. With their finances in tatters, Sara and Bella Zucker moved to Hemet, one of the few places in the area they could afford. Charles Zucker, Bella Zucker's 47-year-old son, who has just graduated from junior college, also moved in to help care for his mother.

Two years ago, Sara Zucker became her mother's full-time caretaker. Riverside County pays her $300 a week for her services, enough to help defray rent and other expenses. At age 42, Sara Zucker, too, has become a virtual shut-in, spending her days cooking, cleaning, bathing and dressing her mother. Because she can't leave her mother alone for more than one hour at a time, Sara Zucker said, she "can't go on dates, go out with girlfriends for lunch or get my hair done."

Adding to their woes, a doctor recently diagnosed Sara Zucker with failing kidneys. Her condition has stabilized through medication, but she worries that she might need dialysis and no longer be able to care for her arthritic, partially deaf mother.

Sara Zucker's physician suggested that she consider leaving Hemet and relocating to a bigger city, such as Palm Springs, where she could receive better medical care in hospitals with newer technology. Given the desert's relatively large Jewish population, living there would also allow the Zuckers to reconnect with the community and join a synagogue, Sara Zucker said. With no money to pay for such a move, Sara Zucker called the Jewish Federation of Palm Springs & Desert Area and Jewish Family Service of Palm Springs for help. Both agencies turned down her request.

"Even for residents of Palm Spring, we don't have any sort of relocation programs," Palm Springs Federation Executive Director Alan Klugman said. "I wish we were able to have that type of program, but unfortunately we don't."

Sara Zucker recently called Jewish Family Services of the Inland Communities and helped her mother secure a one-time grant of $250. Despite this help, Sara Zucker said, "we might be stuck here with no way out."

Bella Zucker, a solider of Zion, devout Jew and survivor, said she feels totally abandoned by the community.

"They don't help me," she said, her hand resting on the belt that prevents her from falling out of her wheelchair. "I need help."

As bad as her situation is, Bella Zucker said she thanks God for her two devoted offspring. "I don't know what would happen if they couldn't take care of me."

Life is even more dire for Moscovitz, the shut-in survivor who's mired in debt and health problems.

With the exception of a couple of friends, whom he rarely sees, and his caretaker, he has nobody and next to nothing. He recently hawked a battered wood dresser for $25. Moscovitz said he had counted on receiving some money from the Claims Conference, but that the organization denied his request for reasons still unclear to him.

Born in Jassy, Romania, the same town as Bella Zucker, he and his brother, Ado, fled their small apartment just before the Nazis arrived. Moscovitz's parents weren't so fortunate. His father died on a train en route to a camp. His mother survived the war but died little more than a decade later in 1956.

Moscovitz and his brother -- who died long ago -- spent much of the war huddled in an underground bunker with five other children in the Romanian countryside. They subsisted largely on produce stolen from local farmers. On several occasions, Moscovitz could see the boots of nearby German soldiers from his hiding place. After the war, Moscovitz made his way to Israel. He fought in the War of Independence and later suffered a stomach wound during the Suez Crisis of 1956. During his years in Israel, he worked as a glassmaker, his father's profession in Romania. When Moscovitz came to the United States in 1967 to visit a friend, he liked Southern California so much he decided to stay.

In the beginning, Moscovitz eked out a living working for a manufacturer of glassworks, before striking out on his own. Making one-of-a-kind glass artworks, including ornate tables and mirrors, he earned $50,000 to $60,000 annually -- a good living. One year, Moscovitz said, he took home $200,000. There were European vacations, houses and nice cars.

He lost it all about 15 years ago, when his health failed, around the same time his wife died. With medical bills mounting and no health insurance, Moscovitz burned through his savings. A malpractice judgment for a botched surgery helped stave off ruin for awhile, but the $30,000 he received, after lawyer's fees, exhausted itself.

Today, he lives on the edge of an emotional, physical and financial abyss.

"I don't matter to nobody. I don't bring nothing to nobody," Moscovitz said. "I don't care if I die. If I die, I will dance on my grave with pleasure."


How to Help

For more information on how to make contributions to help local Holocaust survivors, please call:

Bet Tzedek: Contact Matt Scelza at 323-549-5813, or e-mail

Jewish Family Service: Contact Susie Forer-Dehrey, JFS associate executive director at 323-761-8800, or send a donation to JFS/Holocaust Survivor Services, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Ste 500, Los Angeles, CA 90048

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles: (323) 761-8200

Poverty in Israel — Hunger and homelessness surge in the Jewish state

Tel Aviv | Gil-Ad Harish waits outside the crowded soup kitchen he runs in a blighted section of Tel Aviv. The sun shines much too hot for this time of the year, and Harish wipes the perspiration from his face. But soon a delivery truck pulls up, and Harish prepares to lend a hand.

Today, he's off-loading half-full bottles of soda, the unused leftovers from airliners recently landed at Ben-Gurion Airport. They still have some fizz left.

Harish gets the stuff for free, just like all the food and drink served at the Lasova soup kitchen. A little army surplus chicken here, a few crates of donated fresh vegetables there.

Harish and his wife, Sharona, launched Lasova (Hebrew for "eat until full") in 1990. In those days, the notion that anyone in Israel would go hungry seemed like a bad joke.

No one is laughing now.

In the midst of Israel's worst economic crisis ever, hunger and homelessness are way up. Already strapped to the breaking point, the Israeli government cannot save everyone from falling through the cracks.

That's where the Harishes come in. Both are members of the Amuta, the S.F. Jewish Community Federation's Israel-based partner committee that helps determine how JCF funds should be distributed in Israel. In addition to Lasova, the Harishes also run two homeless shelters and a string of afterschool youth clubs, each called Kadima, with most facilities located in the south Tel Aviv/Jaffa area. 

A successful attorney, Gil-Ad Harish accepts no pay for his charitable efforts. Neither do his wife or anyone else involved, with one exception: the Lasova head chef, who once worked at a posh L.A. eatery Everyone else volunteers, though some are convicts fulfilling community-service obligations.

Today's Lasova menu includes vegetarian bean soup, grilled chicken breast, mashed potatoes and greens. It's a good kosher meal and the price is right.

"The food is free," says Harish. "All are welcome, no questions asked."

And they do come, more than 1,000 people a day. Most are unemployed, some are substance abusers, some mentally ill. Single mothers, ex-cons and a large contingent of Russian-speaking seniors also come to eat. Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., the line spills out the door and onto Salama Street.

Some of the diners will likely spend the night in one of the homeless shelters run by the Harishes. Dubbed Gagon (Hebrew for "little roofs"), the shelters are clean and cheery, if a bit cramped. Residents may stay as long as they like, which is good because there are few other comparable shelters in Israel, according to Harish.

About 70 residents fill the beds at the two shelters at any given time. Everything — bunk-bed frames, mattresses, sheets, and pillows — comes from donations, and low overhead (for both the shelters and the soup kitchen) keeps costs down and the Harishes in business.

That's both good and bad news: good that people like the Harishes are so motivated to help their fellow Israelis; bad that the need is so dire.

But with the government slashing entitlements, unemployment hovering at 11 percent and wages down, more than 1.3 million Israelis now live below the poverty line.

To well-off citizens like Gil-Ad Harish, the numbers are unacceptable. "It is our duty," he says, "to ensure that no one goes hungry in our cities."

"My situation is difficult. We don't have anything to eat," says Yigal Alperson, 66, an unemployed statistician who supports his wife and five children on the $888 he receives each month from Israel's national insurance system. He finds himself often forced to take meals at soup kitchens like Lasova.

"This is security, you know," he said, pointing to a plate piled high with steaming pasta and chicken cutlets. "At least you know you'll be eating today." 

Back at the Gagon homeless shelter in Tel Aviv, Theresa Roszkovska serves as director. A Polish-born immigrant, she speaks in a voice made husky by too many cigarettes. But she is proud of the place and the work she does.

In fact, up on the wall by the entrance is a photo of Roszkovska standing next to a Tussaud's wax figure of Mother Theresa. Both are dressed coincidentally in the trademark white and blue made famous by the late nun.

Harish points out the photo to visitors. "Our two Theresas," he says, laughing

Not that Harish himself is bucking for sainthood. He does what he does simply because the need is great and the resources slim. Moreover, he likes it.

"It's addictive, this work," he says. "And the food is good."

U.S. Hillel Students Help Comfort Uruguay's Impoverished Residents

JTA Focus StoryDuke University students Eric Gold, left, Seth Sokol, center, and Adam Bloomfield play with the children who live in the impoverished community of El Cerro during an Alternative Spring Break trip to Uruguay. (Photo: Duke University Hillel)MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, April 7 (JTA) -- Por dignidad no podemos permanecer pasivos: "For dignity we cannot remain passive."
Painted across the soup kitchen in the impoverished El Cerro neighborhood on the outskirts of Montevideo, these words were the first thing North American students saw when they arrived at one of the primary sites of their Alternative Spring Break Tzedek Hillel project in Uruguay.

"Alternative Spring Break trips allow students to commit time and money that may have been devoted to Cancun or Miami for a cause that improves community," says Elana Premack, the Jewish Student Life Associate for Hillel at the University of Illinois who accompanied the group on its March trip.

"It's also very valuable for them to see that there is a connection between Judaism and social-justice work," she said.

Three U.S. Hillel chapters recently sent students to take part in the Tzedek Social Justice program, hosted by Hillel of Montevideo. The Illinois trip followed visits from Hillel students from Duke University and the University of Southern California.

Advertised through various clubs, listservs and posters, the program elicited overwhelming enthusiasm.
"The info sessions for this trip were packed," Alison Leon, a USC student, told JTA. "They had to turn so many people away."
Duke University student Maital Guttman works on building a soup kitchen with an El Cerro community member on an Alternative Spring Break trip to Uruguay. (Photo: Duke University Hillel)Nearly a third of USC's group was non-Jewish.
"The fact that the group is multiethnic can sometimes be very positive," said the founding director of Hillel Uruguay, Enrique Dreisis. "It can motivate the rest of the group."
Ruth Yomtoubian, president of Hillel at USC, commented on the impact of working for tikkun olam -- or repair of the world -- inside and outside the Jewish community, and with non-Jewish peers.
"It gave me a chance and even forced me to examine my Judaism more carefully and reflect on my own Jewish identity," she said. "It also made me proud."
Of the three groups, USC's tried hardest to link its work in Latin America to Jewish values. A certain amount of time was set aside each day for the study of Jewish texts on tzedakah, or charity.
"The text studies were very useful. We talked about different levels of tzedakah andkavod," Yomtoubian said. "By the end of the trip, people were incorporating terminology from our studies more and more. Even non-Jewish students were quick to identify the level of tzedakah each aspect of our project would qualify as."
Participants in Tzedek in Montevideo, which is generated by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Tzedek Hillel Initiative, help both Jewish and non-Jewish families in need.
Most of the American students were unprepared for the poverty they encountered in El Cerro's El Tobogan community, where unemployment stands at about 80 percent.
"It was a community unlike anything I had ever seen," said Duke student Eric Schwartz. "When we first got there it just looked like a huge trash dump. I wasn't expecting it to be in as bad a shape as it was."
When not in El Tobogan, students worked at the Jewish Home for the Elderly, where the community supports seniors whose families can't afford to care for them.
There the students painted, gardened and spent time visiting and speaking with residents.
"I don't speak a lick of Spanish," said Seth Sokol, a Duke student. "But I was still able to communicate and learn so much about this old man. I think that's pretty amazing."
The students created a fruit and vegetable garden that the home's inhabitants will tend.
While traveling among the Jewish Home for the Elderly, Hillel, El Cerro and various activities planned by the local Hillel, the students discovered that they had a lot to think about.
"We got to see a lot of contrast, and it gave us a wide perspective," said Alia Pera, a junior at USC.
Their experiences also left them with many questions.
By meeting with university professors, the U.S. ambassador and Hillel professionals, students absorbed details about the devastating effects of Uruguay's economic crisis:
Poverty has increased rapidly over the last 4 years, especially among children, and every other child now lives below the poverty line.
The Uruguayan peso lost 94 percent of its value in 2002.
In 2002, 40,000 of 3.3 million people emigrated for economic reasons.
Montevideo, Uruguay's capital, is home to approximately 90 percent of the country's 20,000 Jews. Given the city's well-maintained Jewish community center and state-of-the-art Hillel, students wondered whether the poverty statistics were at all relevant to the Jewish community.
They were surprised to learn that in 2001 -- the time of the most recent community survey, but before the most traumatic economic plunge last summer -- 40 percent of Uruguayan Jewish households were living under the poverty line, and half the Jewish children here were living in economic vulnerability, poverty or indigence.
"It's an often invisible but very deep problem," said Silvana Pedrowicz, director of Tzedek Hillel in Montevideo.
Pedrowicz, who for nearly eight years has worked and researched for nongovernmental organization networks dealing with children's rights and social issues, tried to impress upon the group the enormity of the challenges faced by "newly poor" Jews.
"These people are used to a type of life they can no longer maintain and now face grave poverty," she said.
Newly poor Jews are reluctant to seek the tools or counseling necessary to improve their situation. Many gradually recede from the community, assimilate or emigrate.
"There are many students that come through Hillel's doors that are secretly struggling but carry on like nothing has changed," one Hillel official said.
Although Hillel is straining to pay for its programming, Dreisis said, its existence now is more important than ever.
"Hillel provides a source of hope and strength for our youth during this very difficult time," he noted.
Launched in August 2001 as the first Hillel in Latin America, Hillel Uruguay provides for the social, cultural and religious needs of more than 2,000 Jews aged 18 to 30.
Nearly all the American students on the program cited the personal connections they made with students their own age -- both at Hillel events and Shabbat dinners at family homes -- as highlights of the trip.
"These people really could have been us, or vice versa," Duke's Sokol said. "Their ancestors just got on a different boat."
Pedrowicz said the American students in Uruguay play an important role as ambassadors for their country.
"It is very important that people here see that both Jews and non-Jews from the States care," she said.
Before each American group left for the airport, students viewed a film produced by Hillel Uruguay. Narrated by a young girl, the film closes: "There is no place like Hillel in our community, and there will be no place like it in the future if we lose the chance we have today."

For information on Tzedek programs in Uruguay, contact