At the monthly Cafe Europa lunch hosted by Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey on Nov. 17, the 25 Holocaust survivors in attendance had a double treat — Yiddish songs performed by an area cantor and the attention and comfort of a social worker recently appointed to care for them.
Faith Fisch, a mother of four and an activist with a number of community organizations, was familiar to some. She worked for the agency in the past, doing intake interviews with new clients, and then took a break when she had twins. They are now two-and-a-half, and she returned a few months ago, thanks to a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany.
The money is part of a $250,000 increase in 2011 funding from the conference to the 11 JFS agencies in New Jersey, to cover services that help the aging survivors stay in their own homes. As lead agency for the state, JFS of Central NJ oversees those allocations.
Fisch’s duties include visiting survivors in their homes and organizing social functions, like Cafe Europa, to bring them together. She provides counseling and coordinates visits by home health aides and housekeepers and the kosher meals-on-wheels some receive. She also assists them with emergency response systems, food stamps, and Medicaid.
In addition, Fisch helps the survivors with the paperwork involved in getting compensation from Germany, and financial assistance for things like medical and utility bills and safety equipment.
JFS executive director Tom Beck said it was helpful both to the survivors and to the agency itself to have a point person overseeing the care plan and services for that population.
Fisch, he said, “is great with the survivors, and it’s wonderful having a single point of contact, a person who is now the expert in this area.”
Fisch’s pleasure in her new position was evident at the lunch. She beamed as she helped people fill their plates and find seats. “There are such wonderful people in this community,” she told NJ Jewish News. “I love working with them. They have been through so much, and they still have so much to give. I love hearing their stories.”
Working with this age group, she added, is helping her personally. “My parents are younger, but it’s giving me a new perspective on how to help them when they get to this age.”
In her role overseeing the monthly Cafe Europa get-togethers, Fisch, who lives in Hillside, had invited Cantor Matthew Axelrod of Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains to sing to the group. It was his first time singing for this audience.
Some of the survivors closed their eyes, solemn or smiling as they swayed in time to the rhythms and sang along with long-remembered lullabies and folk songs.
A few of them gave Axelrod a hard time about his Yiddish pronunciation, complaining that he didn’t say things the way Galitzianers did, but most declared themselves impressed.
“His Yiddish is very clear and proper,” said Ludmila Berenfus, who lives in Union. She asked if he had any CDs or tapes of his singing to sell.
Fisch was delighted that a newcomer was at the lunch. Leo Zelmanovich, who recently moved to Springfield from Ohio to be closer to his daughter and grandchildren, was talked into coming by Pearl Zelmanovich, his cousin’s widow.
Fisch reminded the participants that they will have another musical treat at their next gathering, the Hanukka lunch on Dec. 15, when Jewish Educational Center Yeshiva choir will perform.