“Born to Live for Others”: This JDC Volunteer Finds Her Purpose in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine

As we wrap up Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), we bring you the story of one volunteer making a difference in her Jewish community.

By Alexandra B. - JDC Volunteer | February 28, 2024

Alexandra B. (front row, far right) has dedicated her life to serving the most vulnerable Jews in her community — and this work is her source of joy and strength during the Ukraine crisis.

Alexandra B. discovered her mission and purpose at the JDC-supported Mazal Tov Jewish Community Center (JCC) and Hesed Michael social welfare center in her native Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. As a person with disabilities — Alexandra uses a wheelchair and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a young child — she knew she had to support her fellow Jews: That’s precisely why she chose to become a JDC volunteer. 

This Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), Alexandra writes about the community that nurtured her Jewish life and how the Ukraine crisis gave new urgency to her volunteer efforts. 

Alexandra B.

Here’s an early memory: I’m a small child and I’ve joined a large community program at the JDC-supported Hesed Michael social welfare center. I don’t remember what program it is, but I feel love and warmth everywhere — and I never really leave.

Since that moment, I’ve pretty much always been in the Jewish community. 

My Jewish roots run deep here in Zaporizhzhia. My mother has long thrown herself into the life of Hesed Michael, first bringing me there when I was a kid. She enjoys community events and classes, and she’s cultivated this passion for Jewish life in me, too. 

All throughout my childhood, I enjoyed Hesed Michael’s programs. Then, when I was a teenager, the JDC-supported Mazal Tov Jewish Community Center (JCC) opened, and I participated in a variety of their programs, too: lectures on Jewish history, Jewish traditions, Shabbat and holiday celebrations, and more. Outside the walls of Mazal Tov, I observed Jewish traditions on my own — they became a core part of my identity.

Mazal Tov and Hesed Michael are very special places for me and many other community members. I believe it’s the people who work and volunteer there who make it so special — each person who comes here contributes to its atmosphere, including those who are relatively new to our community, like internally displaced persons (IDPs) uprooted by the crisis here in Ukraine. 

They are my family. This place is my home. And just like when I was a small child, I feel the same immense love, warmth, and care for these amazing people.

But on February 24th, 2022, the strength of my Jewish family was tested. This was a terrible day for Jews all across Ukraine. I didn’t know what would happen next — none of us did. Through the shelling and air-raid sirens and uncertainty, I did know one thing, though: So many people were suffering and so many people needed support.

I believe it’s necessary to be with people in the most difficult moments, to give oneself to others without asking for anything in return. Helping others is the highest Jewish value — and we Jews are always united. It’s in our DNA, and volunteering is key to living a truly Jewish life. 

In the weeks and months following February 24th, I felt an overwhelming sense of support and connection with my community. They empowered and strengthened me. I also knew that many people were living in much worse conditions and in dire need of support. That’s why I did my best to be useful — to volunteer and bring relief to others. 

Since 2015, I have participated in virtually all of Mazal Tov’s volunteer initiatives. Now, during this crisis, I have joined JDC’s humanitarian response, too —– I encourage people to volunteer and invite others to distribute humanitarian aid.

One of my favorite Mazal Tov programs is the “Clown Hospital School.” Through this initiative, I travel to nearby hospitals with other volunteers and spend time with the children in pediatric oncology units. There, we host holiday celebrations for the children, giving them a sense of hope, fun, and belonging. 

I believe it’s necessary to be with people in the most difficult moments, to give oneself to others without asking for anything in return.

I do all of these activities using a wheelchair, but this doesn’t define me. I’m the same as everyone else, and I believe this attitude is the right approach to life. It’s important for me to feel like a full-fledged member of the community — my wheelchair is just one thing about me.

I spend my time focusing on the people I’m supporting and the relationships I’m building. Sometimes it just brings tears to my eyes to see others — the children we spend time with, the families we deliver assistance to — so happy. 

It’s important to find your purpose in life and follow it: I myself have always helped people because I believe every person is born only to live for others, and I’m so fortunate and grateful to have realized this mission alongside my JDC family at Mazal Tov and Hesed Michael. 

My dream is to be with them all the time, day and night. I don’t need anything else. 

Alexandra B. is a JDC volunteer in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

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