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One Survivor to Another: Assisting After Katrina

October 6, 2005 By:
Zara Myers, JE Feature
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Holocaust survivors Samuel Swerdlick and Shoshana Erlich present a check to David Rosenberg, of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Photo by Scott Weiner

The Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Philadelphia reached out to Gulf Coast victims by presenting a $1,000 check to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund at the group's opening meeting, held last week at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington.

"It is very moving, and there is special meaning in the survivor community helping hurricane victims," said David Rosenberg, director of Federation's Center for Social Responsibility. "We are thankful for their partnership with Federation in helping those who have lost so much."

The center, in line with its mission to aid people in need, especially through social-action efforts, will work with United Jewish Communities, Federation's national partner, to distribute the funds raised. As of Sept. 30, the local fund has collected $259,122. UJC has earmarked more than $2.5 million toward hurricane relief.

"There are lots of tragedies," said founder and president of the association Abraham Shnaper, who survived seven concentration camps over the course of World War II. "When I saw the mothers looking for their children and children looking for their parents, on the television and in the newspaper, it brought to my mind what happened in the Holocaust - the way children were separated from parents.

"The survivors came to the meeting," he continued, "and they said: 'We have to do something good, we have to help. We know what it is to suffer. We care about all children. Anyone who is suffering, you have to care.' "

Quick to differentiate among the starkly disparate events, Shnaper was optimistic that in this instance, some good could be accomplished: "This happened [the hurricane], but it is gone. The help was late, but it came. Millions did not die."

Children hold a very special spot for Shnaper, a father of two and grandfather of four.

After the war, he worked with a Zionist organization in Russia, going with parents to Polish convents where they had left their children with the nuns. "Either they wouldn't give them back, or the children - who were 7 or 8, and had never really known their parents - wouldn't go with 'strangers.' "

In addition to the check for emergency relief, the Association of Holocaust Survivors has made giving to others a very significant part of their agenda.

The 55-year-old group has made a gift to Federation's annual campaign since 1962. That year, when Shnaper said they "couldn't afford stamps," they gave $25; their gift for 2005 was $12,000. At its inception, the group numbered 900 members. Now, there are 400.

The association raised the money for Philadelphia's Holocaust Memorial that stands at 16th and JFK Boulevard. And it sponsors, along with Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council, the yearly communal memorial service held there for Yom Hashoah.

Overall, most of the funds the association raises go to help programs and institutions in Israel, such as Nahariyah Hospital, Magen David Adom and Israel Bonds.

"We are glad we can help," affirmed Sam Swerdlick, the group's treasurer and the chair for its opening event. "It is very important to do so. People suffer 24/7."

To make a gift to Federation's Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, visit: www.jewishphilly.org/katrina. Donations by check should be made out to Federation, with "Hurricane Relief Fund" written on the memo line. Mail to: Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia Hurricane Relief Fund, P.O. Box 57200, Philadelphia, PA 19111-7200.

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