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Community Matters

Café Europa: A Place Where Survivors Feel Secure and Wanted

November 8-9 marks the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass. The organized pogrom against the Jews of Germany is widely considered to be the start of the Holocaust.

Today, there are between 1,000-1,300 Holocaust survivors in our area. Their close friends, and the people they feel most comfortable with, are other survivors. As they age and become increasingly frail, they need increased support, which the Greater MetroWest community is dedicated to providing.

Which is why Café Europa — an informal, relaxed setting for survivors to get together, chat, eat a hearty lunch, socialize, and enjoy a variety of programs — is so important.

I have no one from the Holocaust here,” said Rae Major, a Shoa survivor who resides  in independent living in Westfield. “Café Europa is like a shot I need. I’m with a few people from the Holocaust, which I have to have. I have to have a little memory. To discuss about it.

Café Europa programs are run by Jewish Family Service of MetroWest and Jewish Family Service of Central NJ, partner agencies of the Federation. Essex and Morris County-area survivors (and some from Union County) gather twice a month at Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange. Union County survivors (as well as some from Essex) meet monthly at JFS Central NJ in Elizabeth. The JFS MetroWest program, which just celebrated its 14th anniversary, attracts about 80 survivors.  The JFS Central NJ program, also 14 years old, has a regular group of 30 members.

Despite the differences in size, the programs meet the same needs. “I see Café Europa as a social support group,” explained Susan Schechter, JFS MetroWest clinical coordinator of older adult services. “It’s a way of letting the survivors know that the community values them, that they’re important. When they’re together there’s a recognition of shared history that is comforting.”

Maris Chavenson, the JFS Central NJ social worker who works exclusively with Holocaust survivors, emphasized, “Our participants really look forward to spending time at Café Europa gatherings with other survivors who share a common history.  Social interactions and stimulating programming can have a positive impact on a survivor’s quality of life.”

Another important aspect of Café Europa is to create awareness among its members about the services the JFS agencies provide. This way, if they need help, the agencies and their staff are familiar to them. Both Café Europas are staffed by professionals and social workers who informally check in with the survivors at each meeting. As Chavenson says, “It’s another ‘touch.’ If we see a member needs something, we can follow up.”

For Asher and Naomi Niederman, Café Europa is a lifeline to the outside world. Asher, 89, and Naomi, 88, admit life is not so easy anymore. The couple miss their friends who have passed away, which is why they go to the programs in both South Orange and Elizabeth.

Without Café Europa we are home all the time. It’s easier for us to be with Holocaust survivors than other people. These are the places we are able to get together and get out from the house and be with our people. That’s why we started going to the Elizabeth program, too — to be with other people,” they said.

Another resource is the dedicated volunteers, many of whom feel they benefit as much, if not more so,  from their interaction with the survivors . “I love being a part of this. I know it’s something that they need and that they look forward to. I’ve made wonderful friends,” said Ellin Cohen, who chairs JFS MetroWest’s Holocaust Advisory Committee.

One of those friends is Gina Lanceter of Montclair, who perhaps summed it up best.

I think I can speak for everyone who comes to Café Europa. I have other friends, of course. But you always feel more open with a Holocaust survivor. You feel you can talk. The experiences that we went through, they are not the same, but they are all similar. It’s a place where people feel secure and wanted.”

 


 

Café Europa at JFS of Central NJ receives funding from the Claims Conference: The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the Wilf Family Foundation. For more information, contact Maris Chavenson at (908) 352-8375 or mchavenson@jfscentralnj.org.

Café Europa at JFS MetroWest receives funding from the Claims Conference: The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Lei Foundation, the Estate of Lore Ross, and the Slipock Fund of Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ (the planned giving and endowment arm of Federation). It also received funding from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey for several years. For more information, contact Susan Schechter at (973) 740-1233 or sschechter@jfsmetrowest.org.

Both JFS’s provide round-trip transportation upon request.