JERUSALEM, The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) is calling on Jews and Christians to change the way they mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, refocusing from only memorializing the victims to also helping the last living survivors who are largely living in poverty around the world.
Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah in Hebrew, begins at sundown May 4 and ends sunset May 5, with Jews around the world memorializing the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Yom HaShoah is one of the most solemn national holidays in Israel, where people nationwide stand at attention as sirens blare. Jewish communities and municipalities across the United States, from Maine to Iowa to Oregon, also hold memorial events and services.
But The Fellowship’s founder and president, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, urged Jews and Christians everywhere to do more, shifting from remembering the past to acting in the present to help the world’s remaining survivors in their last days.
“While it’s critical for the Jewish people – for all people – to remember the Holocaust and learn its lessons, sadly, we have been focusing on memorializing those who perished in the Holocaust, but ignoring the current plight of hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors around the world who are living out their last days in wretched poverty,” said Eckstein.
“We must re-examine the meaning and impact of Holocaust Remembrance Day. We must focus on helping the last remaining Holocaust survivors around the world achieve a measure of dignity in the twilight years of their lives.”
Eckstein and The Fellowship have made helping poor survivors a major thrust of their work in Israel and the former Soviet Union (FSU), where the bulk of survivors live. There are an estimated 189,000 survivors in Israel, or one-third of all remaining survivors worldwide, and some 70,000 living in the FSU. About 25 percent of Israeli survivors exist below the poverty line, while those in the FSU – principally Belarus, Russia and Ukraine – are among the poorest Jews around the world.
While Israeli Holocaust survivors receive some government subsidies, one quarter of them reported being unable to afford sufficient medicine, medical care, food or home heating fuel for the winter. In the FSU, healthcare, welfare and pensions remain inconsistent and many survivors lack sufficient food, medicine and home heating fuel.
The Fellowship provides more than $7.3 million annually in food, medicine, winter heating fuel, daycare and other assistance to over 18,000 survivors in Israel and also helps more than 60,000 survivors and other poor, elderly Jews in the FSU with an additional $15 million annually in food, medical assistance, home care and winter aid.
But that aid is not enough to care for the last generation of survivors, Eckstein said. He urged Christians and Jews “of conscience” to unite around Holocaust Remembrance Day and help expand The Fellowship’s ability to come to the aid of survivors worldwide.
With most survivors in their 80s, an average of 40 per day are dying and “the clock is ticking” in order to act, Eckstein warned.
“We must move from memorializing the past to also acting in the present,” Eckstein said. “This is not only about paying for programs to improve survivors’ final days. It is also about doing something tangible to fulfill our moral obligation to the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors while we still can. We must do justice now for those who endured one of the most horrific episodes in human history.”