Holocaust Survivor Services 

(HSS): A Time of Transition

It is an understatement to say the pandemic is responsible for a lot of change. JFCS’ HSS program rose and responded to and implemented important changes in the face of our communal new reality. 

Ahead of the state’s vaccine mandate, JFCS last fall required all of its staff members, Homemaker Assistants (HAs) included, and volunteers to get vaccinated. No longer could we allow HAs to go into Survivors’ homes. Many of them, like our clients, are Russian-speaking. In order to follow national best practices to prioritize Survivors’ health and safety, HSS transitioned many services out of clients’ homes; doing so caused some frustrating delays in service continuity. 

And yet we soon implemented:

  • Silver Years, a catering service providing delicious, hearty and culturally appropriate meals
  • Contactless job responsibilities for unvaccinated HAs
  • Hiring and training additional, vaccinated HAs
  • Home cleaning by Express Employment
  • Visiting Angels’ personal care services 
  • Virtual Café Europa pilot program

Café Europa, a real café in Stockholm, Sweden, where Survivors went to look for loved ones in the aftermath of WWII, became a Claims Conference program providing educational, fun, social programming to those like HSS around the country. Prior to the pandemic, our Natasha Pellechi helped plan monthly activities like a Portland Spirit cruise, a day trip to Cannon Beach, lectures, dinners, and more. Then the pandemic hit and social opportunities moved primarily online, the realm of the tech-savvy; many of our Survivors immediately were thrust into isolation. To combat that, HSS has launched
a Virtual Café Europa pilot. 

Virtual Senior Center (VSC) of New York provides a device-based platform for seniors. Clients can pick and choose from, say, online classes, discussion groups, exercise courses and more, including Russian-language offerings. One HSS client taking part in the pilot says she’s happy for the stimulating activities in which she can participate, all while at home and interacting with others online. JFCS’ volunteer coordinator is providing community members with tech know-how to help our clients navigate their new, digital world. Is VSC perfect? Not yet, but virtual socialization is important to pursue at this time in history, pandemic or no.