Jewish Federations Applaud President Obama’s Commitment to Holocaust Survivors

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Cleveland Jewish community raises several million to support local survivors

New York – Upon accepting the Ambassador for Humanity award from the USC Shoah Foundation, President Barack Obama stressed Wednesday the importance of providing care and assistance for Holocaust survivors living in need. The Jewish Federations of North America, which has led the effort to implement such programs, applauded the President’s speech and reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to raising funds in support of survivors.

“President Obama’s strong statement emphasized how important it is to provide for the most vulnerable among us. Too many Holocaust survivors need our help, and we have a moral responsibility to lift them up,” said philanthropist Mark Wilf, who leads Jewish Federations’ efforts to galvanize support for Holocaust survivor programs. “To that end, Jewish Federations across the country have made tremendous progress raising funds for Holocaust survivors, yet more needs to be done.”

While working to secure national funding to meet countrywide demands, Wilf and Jewish Federations have worked alongside local communities, coordinating information and supporting local fundraising efforts to meet regional needs. The Jewish Federation of Cleveland in particular has raised several million dollars, and is close to reaching their goal. In addition to Cleveland, the Jewish Federations are also pleased to support the New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. communities in raising funds to be used at the local level. The funds will have maximum impact on survivors for priorities such as home care, food, dental, medical and other basic needs. Plans to expand to other communities are underway.

“Providing for local Holocaust survivors has long been a top priority for the Cleveland community,” said Stephen H. Hoffman, President of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. “We have been proud to work alongside Mark Wilf and the Federations to support this effort, and we are particularly excited to be so close to our goal at this time. The Jewish communities in Cleveland and across the country should be pleased to know that President Obama and the White House are standing with us in this all-important effort to honor the memories of the victims of the Shoah.”

Funding in the Cleveland community has come from a number of high-level donors, including several local foundations. The funds will be used over a period of seven years, to provide over 1000 local needy survivors with meals, homecare, medical advocacy, and other services that enable survivors to age with dignity.

While speaking in Los Angeles, President Obama praised the work of director Steven Spielberg and the USC Shoah Foundation, while noting that one way to honor the memories of Holocaust victims is to honor the dignity of survivors. “The survivors are the living, breathing testament to the horrors and the hope for a more peaceful future,” stated President Obama. “It is up to us all to honor these survivors - the witnesses, teachers and the beacons of hope – by helping them to live with dignity and respect.”

As the nation celebrates Jewish American Heritage Month, President Obama’s speech highlights the Administration’s commitment to helping Holocaust survivors live in their homes and communities with comfort and security. This past December, Vice President Joe Biden announced a number of federal initiatives to support survivors, and significant progress has been made since then. In January, the Administration appointed Aviva Sufian as Special Envoy for U.S. Holocaust Survivor Services at the Department of Health and Human Services. Ms. Sufian has met with dozens of survivors, social workers, and federal agencies to learn the needs and improve access to services. The Administration has helped forge a partnership between the AmeriCorps VISTA program and the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies to increase the capacities of community organizations to serve impoverished Holocaust survivors. Additionally, the Administration’s FY 2015 Budget includes a $5 million challenge grant to encourage public-private partnerships to support programs for Holocaust survivors.

In tandem with the Vice President’s announcement, Wilf and Jewish Federations launched an effort to address the needs of Holocaust survivors and bridge budget shortfalls in existing programs. Wilf, the renowned philanthropist and owner/president of the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings, is a longtime supporter of the Jewish community, and his family is among the largest financial supporters of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel.

Of the approximately 113,000 Holocaust survivors currently in the United States, it is estimated that about a quarter, including many survivors from the former Soviet Union, are living at or below the federal poverty line, placing them at risk of isolation and potentially traumatic institutionalization. In order to remain in their homes and communities, Holocaust survivors need home health care, assistance with transportation, help paying medical and dental bills, and rental assistance or affordable housing.

The Jewish Federations of North America, which works closely with the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies and the Holocaust survivors they serve, is dedicated to working with Congress, the White House, the Claims Conference and nonprofit organizations to ensure that Holocaust survivors get the support and care they need to live in their communities with comfort and security.

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