At 91, Bella still makes an effort to get dressed up on the rare occasions she has visitors. This long-time resident of Kiev, Ukraine, spends much of her time alone, save for visits from Irina (Ira), her homecare worker provided by Fellowship-supported Hesed. “Ira goes well beyond what is required,” Bella explains, referring to Ira’s multiple visits each week. “She cares for me like a mother.”
This characteristic of going above and beyond the call of duty is one that Bella and Ira share. Before her own health problems forced her to retire, Bella worked for over 50 years as an ear, nose, and throat specialist, seeing patients, performing surgery, and even working with an ambulance crew.
As Bella puts it, “I was a good doctor, because I’m a kind person. I always tried to help people.”
Medicine was such a calling that Bella still keeps her old tools and instruments; she likes to have them ready in case she can ever be of assistance. Unfortunately, these days it is Bella herself who is most often in need of help. A number of years ago she suffered a stroke and continues to battle heart disease, chronic pneumonia, and varicose veins. It is very hard for her to take care of herself and her apartment. She is virtually homebound and many days it is a struggle to even get out of bed.
This lack of mobility is a stark contrast to Bella’s youth, when she moved all the time, not always of her own volition. Born in Berdichev, near Zhitomir, Ukraine, to an observant Jewish family, Bella came to Kiev following her mother’s death when Bella was only 9 years old. Bella lived with her sister in Kiev, until the advancing Nazi army forced them to flee, first to the Ural Mountains and then to Siberia.
“First we fled to the Urals, but there was no food, so we continued on to Siberia,” Bella recalls. “I worked in a hospital there.”
When she returned to Kiev after the war, Bella established herself as a doctor, and when the Soviet Union collapsed, she quickly connected to the emergent Jewish community. A recent visit of guests from Israel brought Bella to tears. “I feel that you have brought a piece of Israel to me and I’ll keep it in my soul,” she told them.
In Kiev, Bella’s connection to Jewish life is mostly maintained through her connection to the Fellowship-sponsored Hesed center. Bella keeps the Hesed number on the page of her address book where she lists her closest friends.
The Fellowship also helps Bella by providing her with a bank card, which she uses for food and medicine. She is grateful for the practical assistance and the personal visits, which give her needed care, loving companionship, and even a reason to get all dressed up.