JFNA to distribute $6.9 million in grants in 2024 to groups caring for survivors of the Holocaust, other traumas

Funding — the largest amount since the program started in 2015 — to go to dozens of organizations across the country, aimed at providing ‘person-centered, trauma-informed’ care

The Jewish Federations of North America’s Center on Holocaust Survivor Care and Institute on Aging and Trauma will distribute $6.9 million in 2024 in grants to organizations that provide services to tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors and other older adults with a history of trauma, its managing director told eJewishPhilanthropy.

This represents the largest amount the center has ever allocated in a single year, according to Shelley Rood Wernick, a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, who leads the center.

“We’re very, very glad to be able to award these grants,” she told eJP. “It’s our largest allocation because: A, Demand is very high, and B, We have more money now than we’ve ever had before. Congress allocated $8.5 million towards this program in this last year, and so that — combined with the philanthropic fund — enabled us to have more money [to distribute].”

The $6.9 million in 2024 will be distributed to three main types of organizations: direct-service providers, approximately 30 of them, mostly Jewish family services; eight Jewish federations that will, in turn, issue their own grants to local organizations; and three national networks, the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, Habitat for Humanity International and KAVOD.

The grants range in size, from $40,000-$50,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the cost of the program and the number of people it helps, Rood Wernick said.

She noted that the past two years have been particularly difficult for many Holocaust survivors, making these allocations all the more needed.

“Current events right now are incredibly difficult for Holocaust survivors and other older people, especially in the Jewish community,” she said. “The war in Ukraine, the war in Israel, the attacks in Israel bring up memories for Holocaust survivors that are difficult and are causing people to be afraid, once again, for their own safety and afraid for the future of the Jewish community.”

Though philanthropic funds go toward the center, the bulk of the grant-making budget comes from federal funding, which makes it difficult to predict how much JFNA will be able to give in the future. 

“Congress has to approve the grant, so it’s not guaranteed. And [the recipients] know it’s not guaranteed that the funding will be the same next year,” Rood Wernick said. “But wonderfully, Congress has never cut our program. Our funds have only increased as more members of Congress understand the need and they see the impact.”

The funding is specifically meant to support JFNA’s “person-centered, trauma-informed” (PCTI) approach to caring for Holocaust survivors and others who have experienced trauma, Rood Wernick said.

“When someone has a history of trauma, it’s very important that services be provided to them in a way that meets their needs and minimizes the triggers that could lead to reexperiencing it,” she said. 

“So, for example, if you’re going to have a group meal program with Holocaust survivors, you wouldn’t want to have a buffet line because someone at the end of the line might be concerned that there wouldn’t be enough for them by the time they get to the front,” Rood Wernick said. “Instead, you’d have a completed meal, in which the to-go box is already on the table, so everyone knows there’s going to be an expectation there will be more than enough food and that you’re welcome to take it home. That’s the way to address the trauma of someone who may have been hungry in the past.”

Jewish Federations launched its Center on Holocaust Survivor Care and Institute on Aging and Trauma in 2015 with an initial $2.5 million grant from Administration for Community Living, a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. With that funding, JFNA helped develop its PCTI method and train other agencies in providing PCTI care, including the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies and the Blue Card Foundation. 

“We’ve learned from Holocaust survivors, and I like to say that they are our teachers in this area, even in their old age, teaching us how to help all older people who have a history of trauma,” Rood Wernick said. “And research shows that up to 90% of people by the time they’re 65 have experienced at least one traumatic event. So that’s not only Holocaust survivors, that’s everyone.”

Since 2015, JFNA has assisted approximately 47,000 Holocaust survivors, 15,000 older adults with a history of trauma, 22,00 professional caregivers and 8,400 family caregivers.

“Caring for Holocaust survivors is a core value and deep commitment of our Jewish Federations,” JFNA Board Chair Julie Platt said in a statement. “As we grapple with the psychological impact of the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, our work supporting older trauma survivors has never been more important.”