A Homecare Visit That Restores Dignity and Hope

January 1, 2010


While just a teenager, Irina, now age 79, witnessed her family’s vibrant Jewish community in the Urals region of Russia decimated in World War II, their synagogue go up in flames, and the Jewish cemetery destroyed. Still, Irina persevered. Undeterred by the anti-Semitism and later hardships she faced during years of communism, she graduated from university and moved to the Far East to begin her 34-year career as a French teacher. The only thing she has to show for that now is a pension that puts her below the poverty line.

Living on less than $112 a month, Irina depends on JDC’s Hesed social welfare center in Melitopol, Ukraine, to provide food; medicines; heating fuel and blankets to protect her through the winter; and weekly home care visits from Yelena who cooks, cleans, and bathes Irina—basic tasks that would be impossible to accomplish alone.

For Irina, it is a good day when she doesn’t suffer a mild stroke. It’s a bad day when she lies shivering on her bed because her decomposed ancient firewood heater can’t protect her from the bitter Ukrainian winters. Every day is a struggle for survival—one she faces on her own since the deaths of her husband and son. Her loving marriage was cut abruptly short when her husband died in 1959 of radiation exposure from his service as a career medical officer in the Soviet Army. And Irina watched her only son—the joy of her life—succumb to leukemia before his 28th birthday.

Today Irina fights severe, deforming arthritis with every step she takes along the creaking floor of her home. She lives alone and isn’t able to venture outside its four walls—except when Yelena comes.

On a rare bright morning when Irina feels strong enough, she accompanies Yelena to the local supermarket where she can choose her own groceries and purchase them with dignity using a special food debit card provided by Hesed.

All that Irina has left in the world are childhood memories of celebrating Jewish holidays with her large family, and some tattered photos of her son. These have been her only source of comfort through ensuing decades of heartache. But today she has Yelena; today she has dignity.

*Vital relief and homecare services are reaching 165,000 of the most frail and vulnerable Jewish elderly across the former Soviet Union thanks to the invaluable support of the Jewish Federations of North America, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, the Maurice and Vivenne Wohl Charitable Foundation, World Jewish Relief ( UK), and a generous new gift from Bonita Trust.

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