Born in Kazakhstan, Liliya Tarnopolskaya has spent most of her life living in Ukraine and connected to its Jewish community.
After graduating from the Dnepropetrovsk (now Dnipro) Chemical Engineering Institute in 1985, she worked for some years in that field. By 1997, after some time volunteering with the community, Liliya began working at JDC’s Hesed social welfare center in Dneproprodzerzhinsk (now called Kamianske), a smaller city about 45 minutes from Dnipro. Soon after, she became its director and worked there for 10 years.
In 2007, Liliya gave birth to her daughter Amalia (now a student at the Jewish school in Kiev), and in 2014, she started working as a case manager at the Kiev Hesed.
Liliya’s own mother is one of JDC’s clients in Kiev: 83-year-old Holocaust survivor Sofia Kagan, who receives homecare, food, medicine, and personal hygiene supplies.
Here’s Liliya’s story in her own words:
I love my work. I’m endlessly grateful to JDC for the opportunity to help elderly Jews, and I’m lucky that I’m surrounded by great people on all sides — my colleagues in the Hesed administration, our homecare workers, and of course, our clients.
During this quarantine period, due to the coronavirus pandemic, I’m working remotely from home. My work these days is really different from how it used to look.
First, my phone is almost always ringing. My dear clients, who no longer go on walks outside and are starved for communication, always find a reason to call me, whenever’s convenient for them. (Of course, our staff is also constantly calling our clients — reaching out to make sure they’re OK, giving them extra information about best practices to stay healthy and new ways to remain connected to the community, and just lending a listening ear.)
If they’ve gotten our drop-off of personal hygiene supplies, our clients call. If they’ve received a new bank card to pay for food and medicine, they call. They even call me to make sure I’m hearing the same news they’re hearing on TV. I understand why they’re doing it — many of them have no one else to share their joys and sorrows with. That’s why I’ve learned to savor my conversations with them. Perhaps these very calls are actually the most important part of my job these days.
Second, I now understand the Ukrainian saying: “Calamity is a man’s true touchstone.” Our homecare workers have proven to be really exceptional people. They’ve continued to take care of not only their regular clients but those clients whose homecare workers have been directed to self-isolate by our local authorities. Many of our homecare workers walk to their clients for 40 minutes or more each way. Some of them use private transportation, paid for by JDC and Hesed.
They report to work not only because of the salary but because they understand that no one else can help these elderly Jews but them. They’re responsible for their lives, their health, their safety. That’s why they take the new personal hygiene rules so seriously: They wear a mask and gloves, wash their hands frequently, and disinfect everything that comes into our clients’ homes. Beyond that, they listen, supporting our clients and encouraging them to speak their minds. Even our homecare workers who have self-isolated continue to talk with their clients by phone. Our homecare workers are real heroes, and everyone at JDC and Hesed should be proud of them. I know how meaningful this work is, because I see the effect on my own mother, who is a homecare client.
My clients tell me, “Everyone left us, but the Jewish community remained.”
Third, I’m proud to say our homecare workers and administrative staff have really grown as a team. We have a Viber chat where I write different messages, some of it directly related to work and some of it more personal messages. Here, our homecare workers can share everything that worries and bothers them. They can also support, congratulate, and comfort each other. Our chat helps us stay united and in good spirits. It serves to motivate us and help us hold fast to our values.
On behalf of all my clients and every homecare worker I support, I want to thank JDC and the Hesed management. My clients tell me, “Everyone left us, but the Jewish community remained.” My homecare workers tell me they’re glad to be part of JDC’s noble mission of saving lives. As for me, I feel grateful to have the chance to support my fellow Jews in this challenging time, and I take deep satisfaction in a job well done.