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On Tisha B’Av, spreading light in the dark
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On Tisha B’Av, spreading light in the dark

Tisha B’Av — the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av — is a day for mourning the many tragedies that Jewish history or tradition have assigned to the date: the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem, the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the approval of the Nazi Final Solution. The day, which falls this year on July 16, is spent by many lamenting such persecution and recalling these tragedies.

This year, on this day, we have an opportunity to address one of the tragedies connected to the Ninth of Av, to celebrate some light in the darkness, and to bring relief to a particular segment of our local community in need.

There are about 120,000 Holocaust survivors living in the United States, including several thousand in New Jersey. The majority are now over the age of 75, live alone, and face economic challenges. These survivors are a crucial link to the past. They deserve to age with dignity — especially after the horrors they suffered. As one 89-year-old Holocaust survivor served by Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Monmouth County said recently: “I am old…and now everything is getting harder.”

I want to highlight two pieces of legislation designed to provide needed assistance to this population and to enable as many as possible to remain in their homes for as long as possible, living with greater autonomy and dignity while avoiding institutionalization.

The RUSH Act currently before Congress designates Holocaust survivors under the definition of “greatest social need” in the Older Americans Act, prioritizing services to these most vulnerable older Americans. We urge support of this measure.

I also want to applaud Gov. Chris Christie and the State Legislature for including funding for the state’s Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program in the FY 2013-14 State Budget. Thanks to this provision, our state has ensured that critical services (i.e., home health care, meals, transportation to medical appointments, case management, and counseling services) will continue to be provided to an aging and increasingly frail group of NJ residents who have been through the most tragic of ordeals, but today find it even more difficult to tend to their own needs.

We realize that these are difficult economic times for New Jersey, and budget choices are not always easy. We especially want to thank our local elected officials. In the words of Toby Shylit Mack, the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County’s community relations chair, “Senators Joseph Kyrillos (R-Dist. 13) and Jennifer Beck (R-Dist. 11) have a long history of meeting with and responding to the needs of the Jewish community. Their recent efforts in helping to provide funds for the urgent needs of aging Holocaust survivors will ensure that this vulnerable population receives critical services.”

It is hard to be grateful on a day like the Ninth of Av, but at the same time the spirit of tragedy on this day is sometimes hard to reconcile with the wonderful home Jews have found in America, and in Monmouth County in particular.

As executive director of the Monmouth federation, I am conscious every day of the generosity of our local community in meeting the needs of our more vulnerable citizens — whether Holocaust survivors, those affected by Hurricane Sandy, or our neighbors who just need a helping hand on occasion. I want to acknowledge all those who step up to do mitzvot, perform good deeds, in our community to help improve the quality of life for everyone in Monmouth County.

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