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Imagining a Life Like Maria's

Maria, elderly Hesed client in Ukraine (Photo: Vladimir Shraga/JDC)

Vladimir Shraga is a Jerusalem-based photojournalist and employee of the Fellowship-supported Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which provides aid to impoverished Jews around the world, particularly in the former Soviet Union. In this piece, Vladimir reflects on the painful lives these precious children of God too often experience, and how the support of faithful Fellowship friends like you help to ease their pain.


When I visit those who are helped by The Fellowship, I inevitably try to apply their stories to myself: If I was in their place, would I stay strong? Would I be able to defeat fear, loneliness, pain, poverty, uncertainty, silent days and nights, cracked walls, broken furniture, faulty plumbing and electrical equipment? The more I think about it, the less confident I am that I would be successful.

Imagine that you couldn’t leave your apartment. Imagine you ran out of money – not even having enough money to buy a piece of bread. Imagine suffering from numerous diseases that leave you in pain every minute of every day. Even more painful, imagine you have no one with which you could share these feelings and fears.

It is difficult for me to fully imagine life like this.

But then I think about what our support means to people whose lives are like this. How reassuring would a simple phone call be, with a kind voice asking basic questions like, “How do you feel?” or “What help do you need?”

Imagine being so alone and in pain and impoverished, and then finding someone at your door holding a food package for you – food that will allow you to live through the next week...

Such thoughts could apply to almost any elderly Jewish person helped by The Fellowship, and Maria in Nikolaev, Ukraine, was no exception. Maria lives alone, struck with poverty and multiple diseases. Her home, once noisy and filled with family, now sits in deathly silence.

Her tiny 200-year-old house looks as if it is squeezed into its small space – a neighbor built a fancy new mansion right next to Maria’s home, its walls nearly touching her aging windows. With Maria unable to convince her neighbor to change his building plans, the construction caused serious cracks in her house’s walls, leaving her responsible to fix everything herself.

In Maria’s house, the toilet is in the kitchen, which is on the porch. It’s freezing, and there is no privacy, as it is right next to the entrance. This has been the case for decades – and before that the home had no toilet or kitchen at all.

The roof leaks, the plumbing is rusty and barely works, the window panes often fall out of their frames. And this frail, elderly woman fixes everything herself.

There’s no hot water or shower. In order to bathe, Maria heats water on a stove, brings it in buckets to the living room and pours it into a washing tub. This is her daily routine, and has been her entire life – Maria has never taken a normal bath or shower.

It was in these difficult conditions that for years Maria took care of her mother and developmentally disabled brother. She never had a family of her own, because she couldn’t leave her mother and brother.

But now, in order to help ease this sweet woman’s suffering, The Fellowship helps Maria by providing her with food support through the IFCJ Food and Medicine Lifeline. This service means one less worry for Maria, who is forever grateful for the assistance and love shown by The Fellowship and its donors – support that is moral, as well as physical.


Tags: IFCJ

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