Hochul: Help with 'lifetime of care for Holocaust survivors'

John Asbury

April 29, 2022

Originally published in Newsday on April 29, 2022.

Holocaust survivor groups on Long Island and across New York will share $2.6 million in state funding to improve access to health care and community programs, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office announced Wednesday.

The funding, administered by the New York State Office for the Aging, furthers the national Jewish Federation’s Holocaust Survivor Initiative, according to Hochul’s office. The initiative offers trauma-informed care including socialization, wellness and mental health services, to Holocaust survivors, their families and caregivers, the governor’s office said.

“Survivors of the Holocaust endured tragedy beyond the imaginations of the average person,” Hochul said in a statement on Yom Hashoah, the global remembrance and memorial day for those lost in the Holocaust and those who survived.

Among survivor groups on Long Island expected to benefit from the state funding is the Marion and Aaron Gural Jewish Community Center in Cedarhurst.

The nonprofit helps about 150 Holocaust survivors in Five Towns, Far Rockaway, Bellmore, Oceanside, Rockville Centre and Long Beach. The center will use its portion of the state funds for home visits, transportation and medical care, officials said.

A key beneficiary will be those who use wheelchairs, and survivors in nursing homes and hospitals, in need of access to transportation, said director Cathy Byrne. Equipping more vehicles to assist people who use wheelchairs or need assistance in other ways will mean more of a chance that "each survivor would benefit by weekly home visits and socialization,” Byrne said. 

By connecting more people who fled the Holocaust, she added, "you could see the people from Hungary and Poland have a connection and a sense of support and camaraderie."

The money will fund case management, mental health home visits to treat anxiety and depression, PTSD care, crisis prevention to avoid eviction, and hunger, hospice and end-of-life care. It also will go toward other financial assistance, including medical, dental and prescriptions, according to Hochul's office.

"We owe them a lifetime of care and with this funding we can ensure they receive just that,” the governor said.

Several Long Island elected leaders, in a letter, said the need to help is critical because “the youngest survivors are in their mid-70s, and as they age, they require even more care.” The letter, signed by Long Island state senators Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills), Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) and Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), added, “The terrible trials and traumas they suffered in their earlier years show dire effects with age."

At Gural JCC, Byrne said the funding will help ease the lives of remaining Holocaust survivors in the area — physically, but also emotionally. Thursday's ceremony was a way, she said, to honor survivors — including some at least 100 years old — and hear their stories for telling to future generations.

“It is the last chapter,” Byrne said. “Our survivors are really in their late ages. In a few years, we won’t have any survivors left to tell their story. So, this is living history right in front of us.”

The center held a Yom Hashoah ceremony Thursday where Holocaust survivors and family members held candles to honor 18 survivors who have died since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority from the disease, Byrne said.

The height of the pandemic was traumatic to survivors, with vivid images of morgue trucks and the lack of food on shelves, Byrne said. Community members tried to help ease the difficulties of isolation by making home visits and regularly checking in.

“COVID has been devastating to this population with the social isolation and the fear of contracting COVID,” Byrne said.