In Moldova, Raising a Jewish Child with Disabilities

This Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), learn how JDC helps one mother give her child with disabilities a vibrant Jewish life.

By Liudmila Groisman - JDC Client | February 7, 2022

Thanks to JDC's help, Liudmila Groisman (right) has been able to give her daughter Emma — born with Down Syndrome — a Jewish life.

As the parent of a child with a disability, Liudmila Groisman works hard to ensure that her daughter can live a happy, fulfilling life. This Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), Liudmila talks about raising a Jewish child with disabilities in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, her family’s Jewish journey, and how JDC’s assistance has helped her to be the best mother she can. 

I am proud that my children live Jewish lives.

When I was their age, I didn’t even know I was Jewish. This was typical in Moldova, and the rest of the Soviet Union, when I was young: Jewish life was kept quiet. It was confusing more than anything else. My grandmother would eat matzah, but I didn’t know why. She’d cook Jewish food for different holidays — things like gefilte fish and fried doughnuts — but I knew nothing about these dishes … except that I liked them.  

Over time, I began to visit Jewish organizations, celebrate the holidays, and fully understand that I was Jewish. Only then did I see why my grandmother ate matzah and apples with honey. 

Emma (right) with her brother Bogdan.

I have been working in Jewish organizations for a very long time — since 1999. For years, I was an administrator in a Hillel student organization, where I worked hard to build Jewish life here in Chișinău, the capital of Moldova. Though I’m no longer at Hillel, I still enjoy celebrating the holidays and following our special Jewish traditions. 

These days, I feel most Jewish when I think of the ways that my husband and I have passed Jewish knowledge down to our children. The community — JDC in particular — has been such a valuable support for my daughter, Emma.

Emma has Down Syndrome, and when she was born, I was worried she wouldn’t have what she’d need to thrive.  In Moldova, very few resources exist for people with disabilities. Though I am a trained obstetrician, caring for Emma is a full-time job, so I haven’t been able to work. My family receives a monthly pension for Emma, but that only pays for a speech therapist — nothing else — and after paying for utilities, we have almost nothing left for food and other necessities.

Emma’s immune system is also very weak, and so we have to make frequent — and costly — trips to the doctor. She gets sick very often, about twice a month. After two or three days of in-person kindergarten, we have to treat her for a month. And when the pandemic struck, we knew that this would complicate an already-difficult situation: Our Emma would be further isolated.

Emma Groisman with her parents, Liudmila and Pavel.

But for all her health challenges, my daughter is a lively kid. Dance is her passion — when music plays, she dances. I remember the first day of her ballet class. She walked right up to the barre with complete confidence, and she did the splits beautifully. She was born to dance.

Watching her in that class, I saw that my daughter is so much more than her disability.  She has her own passions, interests, and talents. She’s even won photo competitions organized by Moldovan and Ukrainian magazines: Miss Elegance, Miss Enchantment, Miss Excellence, and Miss Grace. She was given a crown, which she still loves to wear from time to time.

Through Instagram and Facebook, Emma and I have also connected with members of the Down syndrome community in places like America, Chile, Israel, Russia, and Ukraine. She enjoys seeing that there are people just like her all over the world, and that she doesn’t have to feel alone. 

And thanks to JDC, Emma feels cared for. The JDC-supported Hesed Yehuda social welfare center helps us purchase food, medicine, and clothes for Emma and my son Bogdan — lifesaving items I couldn’t otherwise afford. Without this help, we simply wouldn’t survive. 

My daughter is so much more than her disability. She has her own passions, interests, and talents.

Beyond just basics, JDC also helps Emma feel like she’s part of a Jewish community. Before the pandemic, when she was small, we’d take her to Hesed Yehuda and celebrate the Jewish holidays (she especially likes Chanukah). And though she gets sick easily, I still hope that we can soon safely join our Jewish community once again. 

JDC has helped make this community possible — a Jewish ecosystem so different from what existed when I was a child. I want to thank JDC, and all those who support it, for your help — not only for the clothes, the medicine, and the food, but for the vibrant Jewish life you’ve given my children. Despite the difficulties we face, I know that my daughter feels cared for, appreciated, and seen, and I’m so grateful that she can live a Jewish life. 

Liudmila Groisman lives in Chișinău, Moldova with her husband and two children. Her family receives humanitarian assistance from JDC. 

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