Yakira* lives in Boston. Her living room has eye masks and blankets on her gray couch to allow for napping when she wants, and she has plants and photos of her family around the area. Yakira, who is originally from Ukraine, appears like a typical nice, older lady, accompanying her all-white hairstyle with her floral blue dress that matches her eyes.
Unlike the usual grandmother in your neighborhood or the woman you might see at the grocery story, though, Yakira is a Holocaust survivor.
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is also the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The United Nations commemorated this day to honor the 6 million Jewish victims and millions of other members of minority groups who lost their lives at the hands of Nazis. This is a day of sorrow, recognition and prevention.
There are about 80,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States. This population is one of the most vulnerable in the nation due to their collective trauma, which leads to a higher rate of physical, mental and cognitive decline. Many survivors are now 85 years and older. Around one-third live in poverty.
During the pandemic, older adults, with Holocaust survivors among them, have been disproportionately affected. The virus makes them one of the most vulnerable age groups, leading to an increase in challenges. There is a need for meals as well as social connection, which we can all relate to in some way given the past year. Many are lonely and generally disconnected from the community as a result of social and physical distancing. Even prior to the pandemic, many Holocaust survivors were living on pensions, making them choose between food, medicine and shelter on a daily basis.
This is not acceptable.
Since April of last year, JewBer has provided over 1,600 meals to Holocaust survivors, low-income families and front-line heroes in the Boston area. Through a collaboration with kosher and Israeli small businesses in the city, the team has brought communities together to support many throughout these unprecedented times.
For Yakira and hundreds like her, we have been able to provide essential, lifesaving resources weekly. Many of the Holocaust survivors our volunteers delivered to have been homebound since the onset of COVID-19 in March. The connections that local survivors are able to make—while social distancing—with our volunteers each Friday has brightened their week and provides them a glimmer of hope and a relationship with the outside world.
JewBer is able to bring the warmth of community to these Holocaust survivors, who are otherwise isolated and apart from their families, friends and society at large. JewBer has been and will continue to be there for our local Holocaust survivors. Each meal is not just food. It is an experience, a connection with the Jewish community, a conversation with a friendly volunteer and a reminder that others are out there thinking of them during these difficult times.
Yakira and people like her deserve our help and support both today on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and throughout the rest of the year. While the number of survivors decreases, their needs continue to increase. There is no reason this group, who has fought and lived through immense trauma first-hand, should have to live below the poverty line or not know where their next meal is coming from. And yet they are part of a group that is oftentimes forgotten.
So, I ask you today to take a moment to reflect—maybe even light a candle of remembrance. Think about how lucky you are to be in the position and society that we live in today. Contemplate those who do not or were never able to have the opportunities that were afforded to you. But also mull over how we are not done with our fight, advocacy or our help.
We cannot forget, today or any other day.
You can learn more about JewBer, join our volunteer team or donate to our cause at jewberboston.org.
*Name has been changed for privacy purposes.
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