Considering that Passover is right around the corner, I felt very fortunate to be interviewing Yefefa, a 95-year-old Jewish woman who literally followed in the footsteps of my Jewish ancestors – from Egypt to Israel – during her lifetime. Yefefa is part of The Fellowship’s With Dignity and Fellowship project, which provides food, medicine, and companionship to impoverished elderly in Israel.
When I walked into Yefefa’s apartment, she greeted me with a warm smile. Though she can no longer walk and gets around in a wheelchair, she wheeled to the door to ensure that I would feel welcome as I came in.
Born in Cairo in 1923, Yefefa recalls growing up in a house where returning to Zion was the highest aspiration. “We dreamed of Israel and we spoke about returning to Zion, even though back then there was no Jewish state,” she recalled.
While Jewish-Egyptian relations were peaceful as she grew up, that changed once the Jewish state was established. In Egypt and in other Arabic countries where Jews had lived for thousands of years, the situation became difficult and sometimes dangerous for Jews as anger over Israel’s rebirth sparked outrage in the Arab community.
In the 1950s, when Egypt and Israel fought a long and bloody war, Yefefa and her husband were expelled from Egypt. “We were no longer welcome in Egypt,” Yefefa recalled. “We were forced to leave everything at once, so when we arrived in Israel we had nothing but the clothes on our backs.”
Once in Israel, Yefefa and her husband lived in a tin shack. “We lived in very hard conditions, yet we felt lucky – we had our freedom, our security, and, best of all, we were in Israel,” Yefefa said.
The years that followed were bittersweet as Yefefa and her husband struggled financially. The couple never had children, so in 1982, when Yefefa’s husband died, she was left all alone. However, from the time The Fellowship has come into her life, Yefefa has once again felt as though she has family.
“The Fellowship is like my family,” Yefefa explained. “I receive food assistance on a monthly basis from The Fellowship, which helps me stay alive. More than that, Yael, the Fellowship volunteer who visits me on a weekly basis, has alleviated my loneliness and brought me joy. I now feel like I have a daughter for the first time in my life!”
Yael joined me on my visit to Yefefa. A hard-working mother of three teenagers, Yael still finds time to volunteer with The Fellowship by visiting Yefefa on a weekly basis, often bringing her twin daughters with her.
“Yefefa is like a mother to me,” Yael explained as she held Yefefa’s hand, “and to my daughters, she is like a grandma. We visit her weekly. We bring her cakes that we make and share family pictures. My daughters even show off their exam scores to Yefefa. And during the holidays, we always visit to help her feel loved and to bring her joy.”
“I’m an old lady in my nineties,” Yefefa said, “and I don’t know how I would be able to live my life without The Fellowship. Not only has The Fellowship ensured that I have essentials like food, they have also provided me with family: Yael and her three amazing kids. God bless you all!”
-by The Fellowship's Ami Farkas