Thursday, December 18, 2014

Celebrating Life, Renewal, and Hope at Chanukah

It has been a busy week (give or take a few days)! With the success of the survey results that was directly sent to survivors, we decided to add another component. We decided that we would reach out to the children of survivors and see if they have any thoughts on what their parents might need. During our town hall meetings in October we had a couple of children of survivors attend and they had some interested feedback on the needs of their parents, which led us to then wonder if we shouldn’t just ask their children at a special meeting. There is a group in the area here, called CHAIM that is comprised of the children and grandchildren of survivors.  We reached out to them and were invited to speak at their board meeting. We went and briefly explained what I am doing as a VISTA for JFS and the survivor community, and then asked them if they thought the children of survivors would want to have an opportunity to be heard. It was a resounding yes from everyone there and we agreed to collaborate for this phase of the needs assessment. CHAIM will provide the addresses to the children of survivors and I will develop a survey to assess their parent’s needs as well as a letter/flyer to invite them to a town hall meeting where they can come and not only discuss their parent’s needs, but also find out the services provided by JFS. At the board meeting, we found out that, many of the people in the community do not know what JFS does, or that we even provide assistance for survivors. With that in mind, we will be sure to include a fair amount of time during our town hall to discuss the services provided by JFS.

The next day I had the great fortune to be able to meet up with the Holocaust Advisory Committee that meets quarterly and is the group of survivors that help guide us in relation to our work with the Claims Conference. They have been a great help, and a major advocate, for my work here at JFS. I was able to share with them the preliminary results of the needs assessment survey and they were able to respond with their reactions, which were very positive. They agreed with all of the conclusions drawn so far and agreed that the children of survivors may offer an important window into the needs of survivors.

For years at JFS there has been discussions about generating a newsletter for the survivor community about a variety of topics of relevance to the survivor community (new indemnification funds, expansion or changes to services provided, community outreach information, etc.). With the recent announcement of an increase in funds from the Claims Conference and new indemnification funds coming available in the New Year, the feeling that we need to create a newsletter to inform the community has only grown. During our meeting with the committee we asked if they felt this would also be a worthwhile endeavor and they agreed that it would be good to have a newsletter a couple of times a year that keeps survivors up to date on what is going on both at JFS and in the complicated world of indemnification and the Claims Conference. We wanted to make sure that the newsletter represents the interests of survivors and asked if members of the committee would also be interested in working with me to develop the articles, etc. The thought was that this way the newsletter would focus on the questions of the survivor community as well as the information the survivor community needs. I’m very excited about this new project and look forward to working both with JFS, the Holocaust Advisory Committee and the local agencies that work with survivors.

Finally, I got to attend the December Café Europa event at the Jewish Community Center in Oak Park. This is always one of the best parts of my job. I get to sit and talk with Holocaust survivors. Not just about their needs, but also about what they have been doing lately, what I have been doing, the weather, whatever comes up. It is a great opportunity for me to remind myself why I am doing what I’m doing. This time the Café Europa was a special event. We got to celebrate Chanukah! Not being Jewish myself, I have never really participated in the traditions associated with the holiday, so this was an opportunity not only for me to learn, but also for me to be taught by an amazing group of survivors. We were joined children from a local Jewish school who come every year to meet survivors and learn what it was like when the survivors celebrated Chanukah as children and during World War II. It was an incredibly moving site to see the future generations of Jewish children sitting and eating potato latkes with survivors and discussing the past, and the future. This also gave me the opportunity to try my very first latkes, which was delicious and I would like to eat every day if I could! After we ate, a young man was called up to be offered congratulations by the group because he will soon have his bar mitzvah. After loud applause from his peers as well as the survivors, the real party began.  The music was a mix of traditional Jewish music and some newer more popular music. Soon enough a survivor had demanded I come dance with her and a young man from the school and the three of us were up and dancing to “I’ve got a feeling” which led to a great time explaining to the survivor what the song was about, and why someone would write a song like that. Either way, we had a lot of fun as we all danced around the room. This experience is one of the most touching and memorable ones I have had so far at JFS, and it reignited my passion for what I am here to do. 

Here are a few pictures I snapped at the Cafe Europa

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