Holocaust Survivors in Israel Need More As They Age, but Get Less
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Holocaust Survivors in Israel Need More As They Age, but Get Less

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Holocaust survivor Avri Michal sits in a wheelchair with one arm paralyzed and one leg amputated. He does not know how he will get by if his live-in health assistant is taken away from him. “Without him, I cannot exist. He does everything for me,” said Michal. His eyes cloud over and he looks down at the cold tiled floor of his living room.

Michal, 73, survived the Holocaust as a boy by hiding in a mechanics garage in Czechoslovakia. He is now among the thousands of elderly and needy survivors in Israel who face an uncertain future because the welfare group that helps them lacks the funds to continue.

The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel announced last week that it would be freezing two of its main programs.

One of the programs supports survivors such as Michal who return from hospital stays and need medical assistance at home. In 2005, about 5,500 survivors were provided such care by the foundation. The other program serves some 20,000 survivors by providing medical supplies such as eyeglasses, dentures and adult diapers, as well as some medications not provided through the Israeli health-care system. The foundation would need an additional $10 million to restore the programs, its officials said.

More than 90 percent of the foundation’s activities are funded by the Claims Conference and the foundation’s leaders fault the organization for not increasing its funding to meet the rising needs of the growing number of elderly, poverty-stricken Holocaust survivors.

The remaining budget comes from the Israeli Finance Ministry. Ministry officials said that its funding to the foundation continues and noted that the ministry even increased funding last year by approximately $1.2 million.

It was not clear if the ministry would provide additional funds this year as well.

Meanwhile, the cost of caring for these survivors is soaring as they age and encounter more serious medical problems, said foundation officials.

“We all understand that helping the Holocaust survivors is not an economic problem, but an ethical problem, a problem of unethical priorities,” said Wolf Factor, the foundation’s chairman. Factor himself is a survivor of Auschwitz.

A study cited by the foundation concluded that about 40 percent of Israeli Holocaust survivors live below or just barely hover above the poverty line.

The number of needy applicants approaching the foundation has increased by more than 60 percent since it was established in 1994 but funding has not gone up to meet the new demand.

Factor questioned the Claims Conference’s funding choices, suggesting that certain projects claiming foundation funding, such as Holocaust commemoration and youth trips to Poland, are not as immediately relevant as helping survivors in need.

The Claims Conference is an international organization that distributes reparations to survivors.

He said he hoped the Claims Conference and the Israeli state would “come to their senses and understand that honoring the memory of the Holocaust is not only to remember the dead, but essentially to remember the living who still need us.”

A Claims Conference spokesman told the JTA: “We hope that others in Israel will recognize the importance of these programs and will likewise ensure that additional significant funds are provided for these purposes.”

The Claims Conference said it has increased its funding to the foundation every year since it was founded and expects to give it $40 million in 2006.

Michal’s live-in health care assistant, a young Filipino named Dexler, is his lifeline. He bathes and dresses Michal, prepares his meals, and makes sure he takes all his medications. He is also his link the outside world, pushing Michal in his wheelchair for walks through a nearby park and in the neighborhood.

“They know why the money is needed,” said Michal, complaining about those who have not granted the foundation increased funding.

Michal lives on $570 a month from National Insurance, the Israeli equivalent of Social Security. He spent all his savings after falling ill with a circulation problem that led to his the amputation and partial paralysis. After surviving the war in a mechanics garage he opened up his own garage in Tel Aviv but had to close it when he became incapacitated.

Providing a support system is especially important for ailing Holocaust survivors, said Batya Rappaport, a social worker who works with survivors through the foundation. When survivors fall ill past traumas are often triggered as they remember their experiences during the war fighting illness and weakness in order to survive.

“They feel like they are losing everything, that they are losing control,” she said.

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