Activism & Advocacy

Tech empowers Holocaust survivors

A unique pilot program designed by Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) is helping a special group of trauma survivors gain a sense of community, access resources, and enter the digital age.  “Our Voices” is a special six-month program for Holocaust survivors, supported by a grant from the Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care (learn about them here). The program uses person-centered, trauma-informed principles to teach 20 survivors (in Brooklyn and the Upper West Side of Manhattan) how to use technology.

Starting in July 2018 and extending through February 2019, “Our Voices” is teaching survivors how to use iPads to enrich their lives and access help while respecting their life experiences. The classes are taught by OATS trainers with the cooperation of DOROT and SelfHelp Community Services.

The program covers basic iPad skills, email, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, plus information on accessing resources that have particular relevance to Holocaust survivors. Beyond this specific group of trauma survivors, OATS,  together with JFNA, hope to gather best practices that will, in the future, serve other groups of people suffering from trauma.

The results so far are life-changing, say participants.  Reb Zishe Rosenblum says “Outside of class, I use the iPad to listen to Hazzanut, Jewish liturgical music. YouTube is a favorite website. Technology is capable of conveying a great deal of information.” Adds Pesia Jezierski, “I like to use Safari to look things up. It’s really my favorite and you could learn anything through it. All my classmates are my new friends with whom I can talk and learn about different things.”

The classes are helpful even for people who are already tech-savvy.  Hadassa Carlebach already had a smartphone but has been using the iPad to improve her skills…and more. “The most useful has been the importance of different ways of connecting to share your values,” she says, “I’m using iPad outside of class to learn Spanish on the go.”

“We’re proud that through OATS’ program, Our Voices, Holocaust survivors will join the online community and learn to access resources. The person-centered, trauma-informed curriculum will potentially benefit many other older adults who have experienced trauma,” said Shelley Rood Wernick, Director of the JFNA Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care.

“We want to ensure that Holocaust survivors who live in our communities do not remain on the margins due to lack of access to technology or support in learning.” notes Kimberly Brennsteiner, Director of Strategic Initiatives, OATS. “Our program is designed to encourage them to use iPads to participate in the digitized world of resources and information, social communication, education, and engaging activities that could be meaningful to them at this stage in their lives. We also recognize how valuable it is for our world for survivors to be empowered to share their voices through digital channels should they wish to do so. OATS is proud to be a recipient of this award, and is excited to create a program that will use technology to support Holocaust survivors as they age and build special connections that may not have existed before.”

This program is made possible by federal funds from a grant through the JFNA Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care. Approximately 58% of the two-year initiative, or $188,500, comes from federal sources.  Approximately 42% or $136,500 comes from non-federal sources.

Photo, left to right: Innokenty Grekov, OATS trainer, Hadassa Carlebach, and Jeshaye Rosenberg in Our Voices in Brooklyn.





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