Caring for Ukraine’s Elderly Starts with a Warm Home

November 7, 2012


Anya’s home smells of freshly baked sweets and is abuzz with a cheerful mix of Russian, Yiddish, and Ukrainian. Each week, this 70-year-old hostess opens her living room to a group of fellow elderly Jews who have been convening here for over a decade with the support of JDC’s Warm Homes program.

Isolation poses one of the biggest risks for elderly, often expediting aging, the onset of disease, and depression. JDC’s Warm Homes program in Ukraine and many countries throughout the former Soviet Union helps elderly Jews battle the symptoms of loneliness. Providing the care of a coordinator to see after the participants and modest funding for food, JDC ensures that seniors come together on a weekly basis to converse, share sweets, and celebrate Jewish holidays and birthdays as a community.

For many participants, this group becomes their new family, as waves of emigration have taken their relatives abroad and left many of them otherwise alone. “We care for one another whenever needed, and given that we’re all over 70 years old, the occasions arise often,” Anya explains.

Bela, the coordinator for this group, arrives with fresh fruit and treats, and gives each person at the table a warm hug. She’s been a coordinator in Kiev for 13 years and visits with this group are a highlight of her week. “They sing Yiddish songs, talk, and recite poetry together (an important and longstanding tradition here). Often they’ll discuss recipes and then prepare them for their joint celebrations. The warmth you feel entering this home emanates from Anya and brightens each of our days.”

“I couldn’t do any of this without help from the Hesed,” Anya responds. “The care and support we get from Hesed is beyond compare.”

At this particular Hesed in Kiev, thousands of Jewish seniors benefit from a myriad of programs, such as consultations with volunteer doctors, assistance for the hearing and visually impaired, free medications and loans of medical equipment, and emergency financial support for surgeries and high medical expenses. There are also hot meals, social and cultural activities, an expansive Jewish library, and a Day Center where elderly Jews convene for discussions, activities, and holiday celebrations. For those who cannot come in person but are in need, Hesed welfare centers like this one provide food delivery, winter relief supplies, and regular home care.

Above all, Hesed programs throughout the region ensure that no elderly Jew here ever feels isolated or alone.

“The very idea that people who don’t even know us care for us is incredible,” Anya says. “And we pay it forward, every time we visit the Hesed, where we each give what we can in tzedakah. This is the Jewish way.”

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