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Two years ago, the leadership of the World Conference of Jewish Communal Service supported the idea to hold a pre-conference on working with Holocaust survivors and their families. The idea was based on some compelling facts which inspired and mobilized all those involved.
Firstly, Holocaust survivors are aging rapidly, and more and more are aware of their psychosocial needs. Secondly, this awareness has helped to promote the establishment of service networks which exist to address their needs. The pioneers in this field were Selfhelp in New York, Cafe Europa in Sweden, Shalvata in London, and FLAR and AMCHA in Israel. This effort was supported most recently with funds made available by the Conference of Jewish Material Claims-Germany. Thirdly, professionals in the helping professions are working, very often in splendid isolation, without professional cooperation, stimulation, or mutual exchange.
Finally, it was felt that the issues arising from the situation of Holocaust survivors and their families will continue to be with us for a good number of years. The subject is especially relevant and visible today with the proliferation of Holocaust museums and memorials, university chairs and programs of Holocaust studies, and with public awareness heightened by media coverage and particularly by the American director Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed movie, “Schindler’s List”.
The pre-conference program was agreed on by an international committee which included Professor Maim Dasberg, chairman of AMCHA’s professional steering committee; Elie Wiesel Professor of Holocaust Studies at Bar Ilan University; Dr. No de Jong of the Sinai-Center in the Netherlands; Bert Goldberg from the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies in the United States; and Judith Hassan of Shalvata in London. Proceedings were held over two full days and included a site visit and discussion at AMCHA, and a special session on aging within the general World Conference schedule.
The program was attended by more than 70 professionals from 17 different countries including Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Ukraine, as well as Western European countries, North America, Australia and Israel. It was clear that a real need had been highlighted and that we were only in the early stages of addressing it.
In order to disseminate the ideas, papers and approaches discussed at the conference, JOC-Israel together with the JDC-Brookdale Institute agreed to support AMCHA’s suggestion to publish the proceedings. Thus the many professionals who were unable to attend, and all those who in the future will work with survivors and their families, can benefit from the collective wisdom and experience of the conference.
Executive Director, AMCHA
Jerusalem, May, 1995