Surviving with Dignity

Op-Ed piece by Bernie M. Farber

Published: June 19th 2011
in News » Local

Bernie M. Farber

I am the son of a Holocaust survivor.


The experiences of my father, Max Farber z”l, who lost his entire family in the Shoah, strongly influenced my life. It is because of my father’s strength and courage that I am here today – he came to Canada and began again, starting a new family, running a successful business, and living his values. My father was smart and lucky – he was able to care for his family, and himself, through to the end of his life. But not all Holocaust survivors are as fortunate.


The Greater Toronto Area is home to one of the largest survivor communities in the world, about 10,000 strong. It is also the only place outside of Israel where the Holocaust survivor population continues to grow. These survivors, now in their twilight years, have spent their distinguished lives contributing to society in many ways. And yet, many among them now find themselves in need of support from our community as their frailty increases.


Largely as a result of large-scale immigration from the former Soviet Union, our social service agencies are straining under the load of caring for the needy and impoverished survivors in our community. Many of these individuals are sponsored immigrants who are only eligible for Old Age Security pensions after 10 years of residence and unable to access other social welfare programs.


It is terrible to think that people who survived ghettoes and horrors we cannot begin to imagine at the hands of the Nazis should now find themselves financially insecure, alone, ill, or in need of help. In response to that need, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto has shown exemplary leadership in areas of advocacy, philanthropy and leveraging community funds to help the most vulnerable survivors. As their numbers and needs have increased, so have UJA Federation’s allocations – an additional $250,000 has been made available to help care for these cherished survivors. Last year alone, the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto, UJA Federation’s endowment arm, provided another $275,000 for low-income Holocaust survivors with emergency needs, from rent subsidies to medical supplies and devices, home care and legal aid. Working in partnership with Jewish Family & Child, UJA Federation and the Jewish Foundation have helped cut wait-times in half for survivors in need of financial assistance. They have also provided financial support to Circle of Care to help offer home care to increasingly frail low-income survivors.


I sit on the board and executive of The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which among other things provides funds to Jewish agencies that give support to Holocaust survivors. UJA Federation’s leadership continues to advocate for additional funds for agencies serving our growing local survivor community. These agencies are required to provide matching funds in order to continue receiving allocations, which for some is proving difficult because of challenging economic times. UJA Federation and the Jewish Foundation have been working to help fill that gap, and they rely on generous community support to continue to do so.


A few personal examples make clear the impact these initiatives have on improving quality of life for needy survivors. By paying for medications not covered by OHIP, UJA Federation and the Claims Conference empowered Jewish Family & Child to help one survivor in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease slow the progression of her illness and continue to live independently. Another man was given the wheelchair he needed to get around independently in the nursing home in which he lived. Without financial support from Circle of Care, which paid for space in a retirement home and helped her find appropriate long-term housing, another survivor would have had nowhere to live after being discharged from a lengthy stay in hospital.


These are just a few examples of what our community has already done to make life better for Holocaust survivors. But there is more work to be done. UJA Federation, through the Community Fund of the Jewish Foundation, has established a new, fund dedicated specifically to providing this critical support that will allow every Holocaust survivor in our community to live in dignity.


The Torah tells us that “kol yisrael aravim zeh b’zeh,” all of Israel is responsible for one another. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that those who survived the Shoah can live out their final years embraced by our community. They have the right to financial security, support for their health and wellness, and opportunities for social interaction that take into account their unique needs. As the child of a survivor, I implore us all to bear this responsibility with the utmost sanctity.


To contribute to the fund to support Holocaust survivors, please contact the Jewish Foundation at 416.631.5703 or by email at


Bernie M. Farber is a child of a Holocaust survivor and a member of the Material Claims Conference for Holocaust Restitution.

Related articles: (Canadian Jewish Congress, Holocaust, UJA Federation, )

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