More than half a century after the Holocaust, world Jewry is strong. We have our own homeland and our own army. We have a collective memory that will not tolerate another attempt to decimate us. We are in a position to say “never again” and to mean it.
We say “never again” not only when we as Jews are oppressed by others, but when any of our global family is oppressed or vulnerable to injustice. We speak from the heart and from personal experience. We give the anguished a voice. We do not only talk about collective responsibility. We live it. Anything else will not do. Never again. Never, ever again.
Yet, despite the profound sincerity of our words, we are falling short. There actually is a great deal of suffering within the Jewish people. Over 60,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel live at or below the poverty line. Many live in unsafe housing conditions, rely on welfare agencies and can barely make it to the end of the month.
Can we say that they will never again experience pain and oppression? We cannot. Jewish law tells us to stand before the dignity of the elderly; to honor those who have profound wisdom to share, especially those who have faced humanity’s darkest hour. Instead, we sit passively while our only witnesses to last century’s devastating losses live out their last days alone and often hungry.
Twenty-five percent of Holocaust survivors in Israel must choose between meals and medication, a choice few of us will ever have to make. Those who eat, often do so alone. They have outlived one of history’s greatest dictators only to find themselves without companionship, love or the protection of a community that should have never let them down.
But we have.
We have relinquished our responsibility to our own heroes. The Jewish Agency is doing something about it. We are partnering with other agencies and non-profits, including federations, and creating new programs to better daily living conditions for aging survivors living in distress.
The Jewish Agency supports the Amigour Sheltered Housing project to provide safe living conditions for low-income seniors who are survivors. The Jewish Agency also sponsors Project HEART, the Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Taskforce, which provides the tools, strategies and information so that the Government of Israel and its partners can get survivors and their families much needed funding. Last year, we provided more than $90,000 in emergency cash grants to the neediest survivors. This year, our La’ad program will train 1,800 volunteers to make home visits to survivors. During these visits, the volunteers also record survivors’ stories and share them with Yad Vashem’s Archives.
While we cannot repay survivors for what they lost, we can and must ensure their dignity, comfort and fair restitution.
In Israel and in our Jewish tradition, our past is our future. We become compassionate by showing compassion. We become more giving by sharing our blessings. We become more sensitive by making sure that those with less can benefit from those who have more. That is what it means to be a Jew.
Join me in saying “never again” this Yom Hashoah. Never again will a Holocaust survivor go without safe housing. Never again will a Holocaust survivor live without a friend. Never again will a Holocaust survivor suffer indignity after suffering the world’s worst indignities. Say it with me and mean it.
If you would like to support the Jewish Agency’s efforts to assist vulnerable Holocaust survivors in Israel, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or send a donation to The Jewish Agency for Israel, 633 Third Avenue, 32nd Floor, Suite C, New York, NY 10017.
Dr. Misha Galperin is President and CEO of The Agency's International Development.
He co-authored “The Case for Jewish Peoplehood: Can We Be One?” and “Reimagining Leadership in Jewish Organizations: Ten Practical Lessons to Help You Implement Change and Achieve Your Goals.”
Galperin emigrated from the Soviet Union as a teenager. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and has worked in communal services for over 30 years. Galperin was listed in the "Top Five" of the 2010 Forward 50, a list of North America’s most influential Jewish leaders, and speaks widely on issues of peoplehood, Jewish identity and community.