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Project Spotlight: Hesed Homecare Workers

Irina and Bella 14506770 Irina with her homecare client and friend, Bella (photo: JDC/Vladimir Shraga)

Fellowship-supported Hesed is a network of Jewish community centers and social services that provides lifesaving aid to impoverished Jews throughout the former Soviet Union. Hesed means lovingkindness in Hebrew, and that’s exactly what Hesed homecare workers provide when they visit elderly shut-ins who need help with daily tasks as well as caring companionship.

This Fellowship-supported network offers a lifeline for those in need, as well as for those offering the compassionate care, such as Irina.

The Fellowship Becomes Family

In the mid-1990s, Irina took time off work as an engineer in Kiev, Ukraine, to care for her ailing mother. When she tried to return to work, she found that her job had disappeared. She believed it was the result of the post-communist upheaval that swept the former Soviet Union as it transitioned to a more open economy. Thankfully, since 1999, Irina has been working as a Fellowship Hesed Homecare worker in her city.

Irina knew about Hesed from its Jewish cultural activities. “When it first opened, I brought my whole family there. We had never seen anything like it,” Irina recalls. “To be able to openly conduct Jewish activities was amazing after living under communism, where Jewish traditions were banned.”

With no jobs available in engineering, Irina decided to try her luck with Hesed.

“Hesed literally rescued me,” Irina explains. “They didn’t allow me to die from starvation. I had no income, and the only place I could find a job was with Hesed.”

Now that she has been serving as a homecare worker for nearly 20 years, Irina is quick to say that her vocation is more than just a job. “My clients have taught me so much,” she says. “They have taught me how to care.”

“The only hard thing is that so many of my clients pass away. It’s very sad. All of my late clients were great people. My current clients are great, too. One of them actually moved to New Zealand, and I still keep getting letters from her.”

Throughout her time with Hesed, Irina has participated in many training courses and workshops and has even received additional certification in geriatric care. All of these trainings help her in her work, although Irina’s strongest quality is her natural empathy.

For the past five years, Irina’s main client has been Bella. Bella has no family, so Irina is everything to her. She does Bella’s shopping, cooking, and cleaning. She also helps Bella bathe and gives her caring companionship.

According to the Hesed Director, “Irina is the closest person in the world to our client Bella. She has effectively replaced her family, who passed away long ago.” This is the kind of loving care The Fellowship makes possible every day, thanks to our faithful donors. 

Learn how you can help elderly shut-ins and other needy populations in the former Soviet Union

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