Holocaust survivor Henry Friedman remembers what it was like to forgo basic dental care. “For 18 months, I didn’t wash myself,” he says. “When I was liberated, my teeth were yellow. They took a month to scrape off.”
In the ensuing years, Friedman has had access to dental care, but other survivors aren’t in the same position. That’s what led to the creation of the Alpha Omega/Henry Schein Cares Holocaust Survivors Oral Health Program, which began in January 2015 in response to the White House’s call to action to help Holocaust survivors age with dignity and respect. Seattle was one of nine pilot cities in the program, now expanded to 12 locations across North America.
Participants are identified with the help of Jewish Family Service. From there, Henry Schein Cares — the philanthropic arm of Henry Schein Inc. — arranges transportation to one of the dentists in the Seattle chapter of Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity (AO), the oldest international Jewish dental and medical organization. All services are provided at no cost to the survivors.
The first patient to be treated as part of the three-year pilot initiative happened to be in Seattle, and to date in Seattle eight survivors have completed treatment and six are in the process. Across North America, more than 130 economically vulnerable Holocaust survivors received oral care services in the first 10 months.
One of those local patients, Grigory, was treated by First Hill–based dentist Paul R. Amato, who provided crowns, fillings, and periodontal therapy. “I feel as a Jew and a dentist with a special skill set, it is the least I can do to assist Holocaust survivors,” Amato says. “I can’t imagine the many hardships the survivors faced. If I can make their lives better by providing pro bono dental care, I am honored to do so.”
On November 2, awards were presented to 25 AO dentists in a reception at the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Belltown. Each award from the Gary Rosenthal Collection was created from fused broken glass to represent Kristallnacht. Recipients included Wendy Shultz Spektor, incoming president of AO, and Kal Klass, ambassador of the AO Seattle chapter. November 2 was also named Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity Day in a proclamation signed by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.
Among the 120,000 Holocaust survivors in the U.S., a quarter of whom live in poverty, dental health is particularly important. “Personally, I cannot think of a group of people that more deserves to have society look after their needs,” says Dave Jacklin, regional manager of Henry Schein Dental, at the reception. “Oral health care is where all health care really originates.”
At the end of the ceremony, Friedman stood up to offer his appreciation. “On behalf of Holocaust survivors, I want to thank you. Survivors don’t have to feel guilty when they have pain; they know they can go somewhere and get treated,” he says. “You’re a small group, but you’re doing God’s work.”