Supervisor, Social Work Department
Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island
HELPING HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS MANAGE AGING
Fast fact: Kelman’s favorite cartoon growing up? Sesame Street.
As the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, Aliza Kelman’s job supervising social workers that aid Holocaust survivors living in Brooklyn hits close to home. Kelman, who began her work in 2012 after earning her master’s degree, also works with the Claims Conference, which negotiates with the German government to get funding for services, which include accessing medical equipment and helping them with other daily needs.
NYN: HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN YOUR FIELD?
AK: While I was living in Israel, my internship as a student abroad was in a nursing home for Holocaust survivors who ended up moving to Israel after the war, as opposed to coming here to America. It was really something that was always personal to me, that always really spoke to my heart. When that position opened up, it was so exciting for me. But the needs are tremendous and the needs are growing day by day and we try to keep up with them and continue to advocate for funding for them and whatever we can do for them.
NYN: DESCRIBE AN ACCOMPLISHMENT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF.
AK: I think it’s really how quickly the department has grown. It started off with me managing 400 cases, and that was overwhelming to be managing that much. Right now I’m supervising five social workers. We’ve only jumped maybe to 500 clients right now but being able to do more for each of them, that’s so much more for each one. I started in November 2012, so it’s already three-and-a-half years, and it’s really just been a tremendous journey.
NYN: WHAT CHANGE WOULD MOST HELP THE INDIVIDUALS YOUR ORGANIZATION SERVES?
AK: It’s very unique because a lot of the social services agencies out here are city-funded or state-funded. We’re working with the German government, so it’s a very different sort of funding source. For any elderly person, as they get older, they’re changing, but just to give you an example, dementia patients are thrown back to their youth. So for a Holocaust survivor, being thrown back to their youth, they think that they’re living right now in a concentration camp and they’re screaming and they’re trying to get out of their home. Their children are there and they don’t recognize their children. Any dementia case is terrible, but in a case like this where all they have is that long-term memory from when they were young, that’s just terrible for somebody to be living through that. Understanding just how how these needs can continue to grow, for me, is something that I would want to get out there. This is a very needy population who’s still traumatized from that experience. Maybe it’s a small percentage of dementia patients, but even for anyone to go through something like that is horrible.