Susan Harris, CEO of the Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living in Somerset, was invited to speak at the White House as part of a summit on topics, initiatives, and programs related to seniors and Jewish seniors in the United States. The June 13 gathering — held in the Treaty Room of the West Wing — was organized by the National Association of Jewish Aging Services and included White House senior staff members.
At the summit, Harris detailed the Wilf campus’s programs and services for Holocaust survivors and their families. Currently, eight survivors live on the campus.
“I was honored that we were chosen to speak,” Harris said. “I think that we put in a lot of time and effort to recognize our survivors; we take the time to understand their families and their needs and how to educate professionals in the field who work with the families of survivors every day.”
Harris said she also met and spoke with the special envoy for U.S. Holocaust survivor services, an initiative of Vice President Joseph Biden, and told the gathering of what she called “the ultimate dream trip for survivors” to Israel. “Just days after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, EL AL Airlines took off from Newark International Airport bound for Israel with 21 people from the Wilf campus on board: 12 residents and nine staff members.”
She said two of the trip members were survivors: Inge Markowitz, 84, who had never been to Israel, and Jacob Weinglass, 92, who immigrated to Israel, then to the United States, after being liberated from a concentration camp.
Harris said that at the campus, Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked annually with keynote speakers, campus residents’ sharing their own stories, a candle-lighting ceremony, and a recitation by the rabbi of the names of the camps in which they were interned.
Staff members also assist survivors in chronicling their oral histories and escort people to related meetings and special events. “Wilf campus is linked with Jewish family service agencies for additional survivor programs and services,” she said.
“We recognize that we must sustain and share these stories,” said Harris, “and that we are obligated to carry on in response to the next generations who are deeply affected by the atrocities their families bore witness to.”
She said she hopes that the stories and information shared by the representatives of the Jewish senior communities from across the nation who attended the summit will encourage the federal funding and support needed for programs for the aging.
Other panelists were invited to speak on such topics as the Affordable Care Act and Health Care Reform Initiatives, Elder Care Abuse Initiative and Successes, HUD Initiatives within AJAS Communities, and Technological Innovations in Elder Care.
“We all understand that this issue goes generations deep, beyond what starts with the survivor,” said Harris. “It impacts so many generations and it makes me more committed to address that issue going forward
“Being a part of the summit drives me to want to do more, because there is so much work to be done in this area.”