Joshua “Joe” Knobler used to go salsa dancing three times a week. He used to play cards with the guys every day. Now, 88, with both his health and finances failing, he sits home all day in his drab one-room apartment in Valley Village watching television.
“Television is my life,” he said.
A Holocaust survivor who spent five years in Buchenwald, Knobler was married and divorced twice; both spouses are now deceased, and he is estranged from his children. He leaves his apartment door open all day, but no one stops by to say hello.
Knobler says he doesn’t have enough money each month to buy food, get his clothes cleaned or purchase more than a single $5 can of bug spray to fight the cockroaches infesting his apartment.
Knobler used to make a decent living as a tailor. His industrial Singer sewing machine sits in the corner of his one-room apartment, now overcrowded with a queen-size bed, a hospital bed, a dresser and a couch. He explains that the sewing machine is broken; he can’t afford a new needle.
He receives $939 in SSI (Supplemental Security Income) each month and pays $639 in rent. Of the $300 remaining, he spends $30 for the telephone, $60 for cable television and another $30 for medication, mostly for pain pills. He’s had two back surgeries, one only 10 months ago, and lives with debilitating chronic pain. He has $2.44 in the bank.
“I don’t get from nobody,” he said.
But that’s not exactly true; Knobler has been a Jewish Family Service (JFS) client for the past 10 years, part of the Survivors of the Holocaust Program. He receives eight hours a week in home care services, a monthly $100 Ralphs gift card and $50 a month in taxi vouchers. Additionally, a bag of groceries from SOVA is delivered to his apartment once a month.
Knobler, in fact, receives $2,500 a year in support services, an amount that has been capped for all indigent Holocaust survivors by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which provides $914,000 to JFS in Los Angeles annually to assist needy survivors.
But Knobler has actually received $5,300 in services already this year, thanks to two funds specifically earmarked for emergencies and other essentials for the estimated 3,000 poverty-stricken Holocaust survivors in Los Angeles.
For Knobler, these additional expenses included ambulance transportation (not reimbursed by Medi-Cal because of an unknown glitch in his citizenship papers filed in 1951, a problem being rectified by JFS) and new glasses.
One fund was created by Roz and Abner Goldstine, longtime JFS board members, who donated $250,000 after reading about the plight of Los Angeles’ 3,000 indigent Holocaust survivors in a story last year in The Jewish Journal.
The fund, donated through The Jewish Federation’s Premiere Philanthropy program, provides $50,000 a year, with the first year’s contribution matched by a grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.
With the Goldstine fund and with the ongoing $2 million Morgan Aging With Dignity Fund created six years ago by money manager and former Jewish Federation chair Todd Morgan, JFS is able to provide indigent survivors with additional home care hours (usually a weekly maximum of eight) and to cover such emergency expenses as utility bills, medications, transportation and other necessities.
“The need is great,” said JFS Associate Executive Director Susie Forer-Dehrey, adding that last year’s Jewish Journal article “shed light on how important it is to take care of survivors.”
In addition to the Goldstine’s gift, Forer-Dehrey noted that The Journal story triggered more than $20,000 in additional donations, much of it in small amounts, including one envelope with two crumbled dollar bills.
There are an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Holocaust survivors living in Los Angeles, according to Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon. Of these, 3,000 are determined to be financially needy, a figure based on a United Jewish Communities Report published December 2003, which found 25 percent of Holocaust victims in the United States living in poverty.
The Claims Conference defines needy as someone with income no more than 200 percent above the federal poverty level. In 2007, for a single person, that amounts to $20,420, with no more than $20,000 savings. For a couple, the amount is $27,380, with no more than $30,000 in savings.
And, perhaps surprisingly, the number of indigent survivors is increasing, more than six decades after the Holocaust.
“The whole population is living longer, and so are Holocaust survivors,” said Paula Fern, director of JFS’ Holocaust Survivor Program. Of the approximately 600 survivors that JFS is assisting, many are in their 80s and 90s, and five are more than 100 years old.
Fern explained that as they become older, they become frailer. As a result, they need more home care, which includes help with laundry, cleaning, bathing, grocery shopping, doctor visits and errands.
Also, according to Fern, survivors suffer from many more chronic illnesses than most elderly people, including heart disease, diabetes and asthma and breathing diseases. These are debilitating as well as costly, as they necessitate an average of 10 to 15 prescriptions monthly.
For survivors living on fixed incomes, these expenses add up. Plus, rents, as well as the cost of food, transportation and utilities, are increasing.
“There is a huge lack of affordable housing,” said Fern, who noted that there is great resistance among Holocaust survivors to enter assisted-living facilities, whose institutional settings, no matter how cheerful and home-like, trigger unpleasant memories.
While JFS helps survivors with their psychosocial needs, Bet Tzedek addresses their legal issues. It is, in fact, the only Jewish legal services agency that offers free assistance with reparations, pensions and other benefits from Germany and other European countries.
Currently, Bet Tzedek has about 750 open files in their Holocaust reparations program.
Holocaust survivor Rosalie Greenfield fills out claims for reparations from the Hungarian government during a summer 2006 clinic run by Bet Tzedek. Photo courtesy of Bet Tzedek
“Justice moves slowly,” said Wendy Marantz Levine, deputy director of litigation. She explained that some cases have been open 10, 12 and even 15 years and are still awaiting responses.