Latet Israeli Humanitarian Aid, one of the largest Israeli nonprofit organizations combating poverty, has just launched a new fundraising campaign to support its efforts to ensure lives of dignity for thousands of Holocaust survivors and elderly in need in Israel. Donations collected as a part of this campaign will be used to provide winter packages – each of them containing a food box, blanket, and heater – to impoverished survivors and senior citizens.

Eliezer is a Holocaust survivor. Together with his parents and two siblings, he fled Nazi-occupied Poland to Russia, where it was believed they would be able to find safety and freedom. Instead, they spent the rest of the war in a Siberian camp, bitterly struggling just to survive.

 “I live in Israel as a Jew with overflowing pride,” said Eliezer in a 2018 interview, his voice choked with emotion. And yet, like many other survivors in Israel, sometimes it is a struggle for Eliezer to feel that pride and sense of fundamental dignity in his day to day life.

Pictured: Eliezer, one of the 1,200 Holocaust survivors receiving monthly assistance from Latet.

According to the 2019 Alternative Poverty Report of Latet Israeli Humanitarian Aid – one of the largest NGOs combating poverty in Israel –  97% of the 13,980 Holocaust survivors and elderly receiving assistance from Latet state that their pension does not enable them or only partially enables them to meet their basic needs with dignity.  

There are fewer than 200,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel today. A shocking quarter of these survivors live below the poverty line. Some lack for sufficient and nutritious food, others adequate and durable shelter, and still more lack for both – not to mention those who cannot receive the health care they need. 

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Welfare authorities recognize these survivors to be in need; still, many of them struggle when they ought to be comfortable. 

Many survivors sadly go unnoticed, and are therefore improperly cared for. Isolation is detrimental to the physical and mental health of every living person but is unique in its effect on the elderly, many of whom are coping with a constant cycle of loss and grief. What does it mean to have few or no people available as support? Well, it can mean lacking an advocate to assist in connecting survivors with aid, especially in the age of Internet resources that require special tools to navigate. Worsening the tragedy of this situation still more is that even when many survivors are eligible for state assistance, they cannot access that assistance because of mobility limitations or other encumbrances. Social isolation can lead to being isolated from aid.

An Israeli study of mortality and comorbidity found that Holocaust survivors overall suffer higher rates of chronic disease, including cancer, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart attacks, obesity, chronic kidney disease, and dementia, and are less healthy than the general population.

Pictured: Adela, 89, a Holocaust survivor from Romania receiving aid from Latet since 2013.

Counterintuitive, however, the researchers found that Holocaust survivors outlive the general population by an average of seven years. Trailing alongside the expected decline in ability that accompanies aging and the regular expenses that dotage ushers in, survivors on average have more medical expenses that render their small pensions insufficient for managing their needs. When one does not have the means to buy proper food and pay bills, they usually sacrifice medical care. Survivors typically abandon expensive dental care (on average 7,000 shekels ($2,000)), which can cause severe and even chronic pain. Small items, too, are lacking and can have significant repercussions. Many survivors have difficulty moving and stay at home, often without fans to keep them cool in summer and without enough heating equipment for the winter.

This population has been given insignificant attention, but there are a few NGOs, like Latet Israeli Humanitarian Aid, that have recognized the myriad impediments to the well-being of Holocaust survivors. Latet was founded in 1996 by Gilles Darmon – who was then a new immigrant from France – to help those he saw falling through the gaps in the Israeli social welfare system. To that end, Latet acts as an umbrella organization and provides for the basic needs of populations living in poverty and food insecurity, giving ongoing food assistance to over 200,000 children, families, and elderly.

Latet’s answer to the needs of impoverished Holocaust survivors was to create the “Aid for Life” program, the only program in Israel providing a comprehensive aid package to 1,200 survivors. The assistance includes monthly food boxes, social support in the form of individual volunteers who visit them regularly and social events, home restorations and an Emergency Fund for medical and paramedical needs; such as dental treatments, eyeglasses, hearing devices, adult diapers, fans, and heaters.

“I live off 3,000 shekels ($800) a month, and I manage that money through precise calculations of everything I buy. [Last year] my heater was broken and I couldn’t afford to fix it. I was cold so I put on the warmest clothes I could find and I was just sitting at home with my coat.” says Adela, an 89 years old survivor from Romania who receives assistance from Latet.

Right now, Latet is raising funds to gather enough winter packages to bring to impoverished survivors and elderly across the country. During the winter, their daily struggle is worsened as they often have to decide whether to allocate money to food or heating equipment. The organization believes they should not have to choose between these two basic needs but without additional support, Latet will not be able to respond to all the requests for a winter package. “We only have a few years left to help the last witnesses of our History spend the rest of their lives with dignity,” says Darmon, the founder, and president of Latet. “At Latet, we believe in the power of community and this is why we are reaching out to the large public to join us in our efforts. To the survivors receiving our help, it sends a strong message that they have not been forgotten.” 

When it comes to the Holocaust, we vow to “Never Forget,” yet forgotten is precisely the word that comes to mind when referring to those living below the poverty line. Now we must recognize their needs and face the music of the ticking clock, which is steadily counting down the 10 years we have to take action and care for the remaining survivors in Israel. Let this clock be a reminder to never forget that the time to help is always now.

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Donations are tax deductible in the US, UK, Canada, Israel, France and Australia. 

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