Lauren put on her makeup the other day. She dressed appropriately for her meeting, left her apartment, and showed up on time at an office near Greenwich Village.
It sounds like an ordinary day.
But for Lauren, a 39-year-old artist who lost most of her business on 9-11 and was displaced for several months from her home near the World Trade Center, it was extraordinary.
A year ago Lauren wouldn’t leave her apartment, says Nancy Wyrough, a care manager at the FEGS Health and Human Services System. Lauren’s appointment that recent day was with Wyrough, a social worker who has dealt exclusively with people like Lauren (devastated psychologically and financially by the terrorist attack on the United States) for the past year.
Lauren (not her real name) was deeply in debt and still traumatized on the first anniversary of 9-11, says Wyrough, a trained social worker. "She didn’t know how to ask for help." Finally she reached out to FEGS. For several months Wyrough made frequent visits to Lauren’s apartment. Slowly Lauren forced herself to go the FEGS headquarters on Hudson Street. She received a small financial grant arranged by the social services agency, joined a support group and talked to a counselor.
This week, on the second anniversary of 9-11, there are many Laurens. The Jewish community’s social service network is aiding an estimated several thousand Jews who need financial or psychological assistance. People who are unemployed or underemployed because of the worst-ever attack on the United States. People who have nightmares. People who are afraid of subways or tall buildings. People who don’t know where to turn for help.
"The needs are out there," says Rick Greenberg, director of special projects at the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. "People don’t realize there are still needs. It’s going to affect us for a very long time."
Greenberg coordinates 9-11 programs at the Jewish Board. Its Web site announces its services with the statement, "9/11 is not over for any of us."
"Americans lost their confidence, they became vulnerable, they feel frightened," says Al Miller, FEGS chief executive officer. This is especially evident in the Jewish community, he says.
Because of the continuing violence in Israel, because of the perception that anti-Semitism is growing, because of the inordinate number of Jews who have lost their unemployment in the two years since 9-11, such agencies as FEGS and JBFCS feel a special mandate to help the recovery of the Jewish community, Miller says. "In order to recover, you have to learn to feel safe. You can’t feel safe if anti-Semitism is growing."
Exact statistics on the number of Jews out of work because of 9-11 are not available, Miller says, adding "We have thousands … that’s increased since 9-11."
William Rapfogel, executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, sees "a whole new category of poor people." Jews who held high-salary, high-profile jobs, who lost their jobs two years ago, who have exhausted their savings in the last year. "We began to see lots of people coming to us who never thought they would come to us," he says.
"We’re still getting more clients," FEGS’ Wyrough says. She is one of five care managers (the agency’s title for its social workers who meet clients) working exclusively with a 9-11 population.
The shock waves of 9-11 hit the Jewish population particularly hard, because Jews were concentrated in such fields as Wall Street, computers, insurance and real estate: many of the hardest-hit sectors in the last two years. With government benefits running out, families find themselves unable to pay for mortgages or utilities, in addition to such expenses as college or day school tuition, summer camps or JCC memberships.
"Every segment of the population" is affected, children and senior citizens, native U.S. citizens and Soviet emigres, Al Miller of FEGS says. The result: an increase in depression, drugs and domestic violence.
FEGS, located less than a mile from Ground Zero, offers employment counseling, job retraining, mental health counseling and general help in bolstering "coping skills." It receives funding from a variety of private and government sources, as well as UJA-Federation.
Its programs, which received a recent Behavioral Healthcare Leadership Award from the Eli Lilly Company and Comprehensive NeuroScience, are advertised through local synagogues.
"We get more calls from rabbis than ever before," Miller says. "There is more tsuris than ever before."
Other agencies that offer 9-11 recovery activities for the Jewish and general community include JBFCS and its New York Healing Center, the Jewish Child Care Association, and the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged.
With the backdrop of the recent blackout in New York City and the escalating violence in Israel, the upcoming anniversary of 9-11 will be particularly difficult for some 9-11 victims, Wyrough says. "It brings up the issues."
She meets with three to four clients a day in her office, talks with another 10 daily on the phone.
Some cry. Some are angry, she says. "I cry. It’s not easy."
How does she judge success with her 9-11 clients?
When she is able to close one of their files. When they no longer need FEGS’ continuing support.
"We’ve closed hundreds" of files, says Ellen Stoller, FEGS assistant vice president for community services.
Then there’s Lauren.
She’s still coming to FEGS. Lauren "is able to talk about her fear," Wyrough says. "Her attitude is much more positive. That is a success."