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Grief Support for Families of Holocaust Survivors

While all grieving is individual, there are grief issues surrounding the loss of Holocaust survivors that are unique to the families of survivors. However, until now there has not been a dedicated approach to grief support for this population. Metropolitan Jewish Health System (MJHS) Hospice and Palliative Care, based in New York, is working to develop a grief support group to support families impacted by Holocaust trauma, and Targum Shlishi is supporting this much-needed initiative.

The need

“We have found that the children of Holocaust survivors ask for grief support that is specific to their experience as members of the second generation. There are aspects of the grieving process that are uniquely different among family members of Holocaust survivors due to lifelong patterns of communication and behaviors in families of survivors,” explains Toby Weiss, MJHS’s director of Cultural Diversity and Jewish Programming.

MJHS cares for a large number of Holocaust survivors at the end of life, and, by extension, it cares for the family members. As a hospice with a focus on family-centered and holistic care, MJHS also provides pre- and post-bereavement support for thirteen months. Although MJHS has long offered support groups, before now none have been tailored specifically to families of survivors. But as more people began asking for this service, MJHS researched the topic and found a marked lack of grief support groups dedicated to this population.

“This is a very real and unfortunately unmet need until now,” says Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi. “We applaud MJHS for recognizing this problem and for taking the initiative to address it. These are the types of projects that, as a foundation, we are honored to support. People need this service and MJHS has the wherewithal not only to provide it to its constituents, but to create a model that it will share with others.”

Next steps: development

MJHS is currently in the planning and development stage, working with a clinical psychologist who specializes in Holocaust survivor trauma and with hospice bereavement specialists to create an infrastructure for the group. Additionally, it is working with e-learning experts to develop the capability for the group to meet via an e-platform. In this way, the group will be accessible to family members of survivors both near and far.

Sharing the work

One of MJHS’s objectives is for this initiative to be much more far-reaching than simply serving its immediate community. It plans to share the model it develops widely, and to make it available nationally and internationally. This will be accomplished by publicizing and disseminating information to the national hospice community through several avenues, including national organizations and MJHS divisions, such as the MJHS Institute for Innovation and Palliative Care.

Other related initiatives

Previously, Targum Shlishi supported an MJHS initiative to develop instructional resources to help train clinicians on best practices in working with Holocaust survivors at end of life; the foundation is currently also supporting MJHS’s work to create a video training based on this approach.

About MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care

MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care is a non-for-profit organization serving New York City and Nassau County. It is one of the largest hospice and palliative care programs in New York State and the largest Jewish hospice in the region. MJHS is rooted in Jewish values and traditions, although it is not a religious organization and has patients of all faiths, cultures, and ethnicities. MJHS has created unique, culturally specific end-of-life care programs to serve different populations, including Jewish patients. Many MJHS programs and services are aided by grants from MJHS Foundation, which is supported by private and corporate donations as well as grants from organizations. For further information visit its website.

About Targum Shlishi 

Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation, is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website.

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