Press Releases

JDC Provides Lifeline to Nearly 170,000 Elderly Jews—Among the Poorest Jews in the World


Michael Geller / JDC Telephone: (212) 885-0838

Jamie Epstein / JDC Telephone: (212) 885-0849

For Immediate Release

From St. Petersburg, Russia to Siberia, from Kiev, Ukraine to Kazakhstan, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) provides relief to nearly 170,000 destitute elderly Jews in over 2,800 cities, towns, and villages across the vast cultural and geographic expanse of republics that comprise the former Soviet Union. A network of more than 170 JDC-supported Hesed welfare centers and other Jewish organizations offers vital services to ease the burden of elderly Jews living in the region’s bitter cold. Every day, homecare for the elderly, as well as thousands of blankets, boots, warm jackets, and gallons of heating fuel oil are being provided for the neediest clients.

“There are tens of thousands of destitute Jewish elderly in the former Soviet Union who wake up every morning having to decide between eating food or taking medicine. And tomorrow they will face the same dilemma. If this was your mother or father, would that be acceptable?” said Steven Schwager, JDC’s Chief Executive Officer.

“The world economic crisis has made life more difficult for these Jews, and we must continue our critical work providing them welfare relief and other basic services,” he said. “They are the poorest Jews on earth and need our care, even while we continue to seek much-needed additional funds to meet their growing needs.”

At the beginning of World War II, all of Irina’s brothers, sisters and other relatives were sent to Treblinka, where they perished. Irina survived the war alone, sheltered by a kind Polish family. She has fond memories of winter evenings spent with the Polish family who saved her life. She also recalls celebrating Chanukah with her own family, when her father gave each child Chanukah gelt, and her mother made latkes. The memory brings tears to Irina’s eyes, when she lights the candles with her friends at the JDC-supported Hesed welfare center in Moldova.

Today, Irina lives in a small two-room apartment with her daughter, son-in-law and grandson. She spends a third of her monthly $109 pension on utilities, and finds it difficult to cover her basic living expenses and still buy the medications she needs to survive. She would be lost without the medication subsidies, food and other assistance she receives from JDC. b“The Hesed center is a place where I can share my joys and hardships with others,” said Irina. “I am grateful for their kindness and sympathy. The time I spend at the center puts me in a good mood for the entire week.”

Irina is one of close to 170,000 impoverished elderly Jews helped by JDC. Approximately 88,000 of these seniors qualify for restitution-funded assistance. Vital services for the remaining 80,000 seniors depend entirely on funding from North American Federations and others. JDC provides a wide range of services including home care, food, medical care, winter relief and a warm homes volunteer project where groups gather to discuss Jewish topics and care for the elderly’s feelings of isolation and loneliness.

After seven decades of Communist repression and Nazi terror, and amid the financial hardship that followed the Soviet regime’s collapse, JDC has facilitated the rebirth of strong, self-determining Jewish communities. Day by day, Jews in the former Soviet Union are reinventing Jewish life that is grounded in both material security and a vibrant Jewish identity. With the support of North American Jewish communities and global funding partners, JDC is tackling the realities of providing significant welfare services within the current global economic climate.

In addition to services to elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union, critical nutritional, medical and other assistance is provided to close to 25,000 children at risk and their families through the International Federation of Christians and Jews (IFCJ)-JDC Partnership for Children. The humanitarian assistance organization also helps Jews reclaim their heritage and build self-sufficient Jewish life through libraries, Hillel Centers, family retreats and Jewish education. It offers training in practical skills of welfare and community work, leadership and management, academic expertise and economic self-sufficiency to enhance communities’ independence.

About JDC

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian assistance organization. JDC works in more than 70 countries and in Israel to alleviate hunger and hardship, rescue Jews in danger, create lasting connections to Jewish life, and provide immediate relief and long-term development support for victims of natural and man-made disasters.

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