In Estonia, One Mother Celebrates Her Jewish Community

One mother reflects on how the Estonian Jewish Community – and JDC – helped her and her son live Jewish lives.

By Liudmila Tjurina - JDC Client | May 5, 2022

Liudmila Tjurina found the care, support, and Jewish life she needed through JDC and the Estonian Jewish Community.

As the single mother of a child with disabilities, Liudmila Tjurina works tirelessly to give her son the best life possible. When Tjurina connected with the Jewish community of Estonia — where she lives — and with JDC, she also discovered the care, support, and Jewish life she craved. This Mother’s Day, Tjurina tells her story of resilience and hope — and how JDC has helped her to be the best possible mother she can. 

I always wanted kids, and Dmitry — “Dima,” for short — is the most precious thing I have.  

Dima was born at 24 weeks — very premature — and because of that, he has severe health complications. He wasn’t able to breathe at birth, and so he was put in an incubator for more than two months. I stayed with him in that hospital for half a year as he underwent operation after operation.

Day and night, I sat by his side and prayed that he would survive. Everything my late husband and I could do, we did — and because of that, he lived. Twenty-eight years later, I’m still at his side, trying to do my best for him. Caring for my son has shaped every part of my life.  

Liudmila (left) with Oleksandra Nazarova, the welfare director of the Jewish Community of Estonia.

Parenting Dima is a 24/7 job — day and night don’t really exist. His seizures can happen at any moment, and so I have to watch him at all times. I feed him, wash him, and help him get around in his wheelchair. He’s 28 now — a grown man — but still, I carry him myself. It’s difficult, but together, we get by. 

Believe it or not, life used to be even more stressful. Dima’s father died early on, and so I had to do everything on my own, as a single mother. I soon realized that I’d need professional assistance — but I didn’t know where to turn. 

Everything changed when I connected with the Jewish Community of Estonia, and through them, also discovered JDC: The support started immediately. 

Their first question was, “How can we help you?” That’s when I realized that all Jews care about each other as if we are one family. From that moment on, my son and I became valued members of the very special Estonian Jewish community — and now I can’t imagine life without it. 

I know that if I have a problem, I can turn to the community, and I’ll have a listening ear, a helping hand, or directions to the right path. No matter what, I’ll always have the help that Dima and I need.

Their support takes many forms. Sometimes, it’s advice; other times, it’s material assistance. And sometimes, it’s just empathy — but that’s still lifesaving.

This help has been transformative for Dima. I was having trouble taking him outside in his wheelchair. Without a lift-ramp, it’s difficult for Dima to leave home, and I can’t just leave him alone. Lift-ramps are prohibitively expensive, and I wasn’t sure what to do.

But JDC and the Jewish community helped us. Now, with our lift-ramp, I can take Dima outside — we can walk around, run errands, experience the world together. My child gets fresh air.

The Jewish Community of Estonia is based out of the Tallinn building seen here and works to support vulnerable Jews and build Jewish life in the Baltic state.

And when some vandals broke the lift-ramp, the Jewish community even paid to fix it. They’re always there, ready to help. 

This was especially true throughout the pandemic. Thanks to the community, I received regular calls from volunteers, asking us what we needed, asking us for a grocery list so they could bring us food. Sometimes they called me just to talk, just to see how I was doing.

During the pandemic, they delivered groceries, diapers, sanitizer. All of that came because that’s what Jews do — we help each other in times of need. And at a moment when it was almost impossible to get masks, they brought them to us — handmade. They were the only people checking in on us during that time, and that was worth a lot. I didn’t feel alone, and that helped me survive. 

But JDC — and the Jewish Community of Estonia — has given us more than just material support: They’ve given us a Jewish life. 

JDC and the community are my source of Jewish education. I don’t know many things about Jewish life, as I didn’t have much of a Jewish upbringing, but I always learn something new at their lectures. I hear speakers from Israel and across the world — intelligent people, scholars — and it’s all so interesting. I enjoy listening to them.

These talks are also essential on a more soulful level. They give me strength to care for Dima — to give him my best — and they take my mind off the stresses of daily life. I’ve even started reading about Jewish topics and then sharing what I’ve read with my friends. I’m in several clubs. There are so many activities to choose from, and I’ve deepened my interests across so many areas, like Jewish cooking — making close friends along the way, too.

My life is now so intertwined with the Jewish community. Each morning, my first thought is, “Thank G-d for my community.” We call each other often, ask for advice, give advice, and I come here just to see everyone: It gives me the strength to keep on living. 

But the biggest thing that keeps me going is, of course, my love for my son. I realize that the better I feel, the better my son will feel — and JDC and our Estonian Jewish community help me feel better.

JDC – and the Jewish Community of Estonia – have given us more than material support: They’ve given us a Jewish life.

He’s a fighter, my son. I love his love for life. He fights to live. He fights to stay strong. And he’s more than just his disabilities. He loves music — especially Jewish music — and when I play something for him, he reacts. If I play something happy, he smiles. If I play something sad, he cries. I know he understands: He is a whole person. 

Being his mother has taught me a lot. The most important thing I’ve learned is to keep going, to stay strong. My son — he can’t walk, he can’t see, he can’t speak, but I think he’s happy that he’s alive. 

And you know what? That’s a lesson for me, too.

Liudmila Tjurina and her son Dmitry receive humanitarian assistance from the JDC-supported welfare department of the Jewish Community of Estonia. They live in Tallinn, Estonia.

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