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Faces of The Fellowship: Roza

Faces of The Fellowship: Roza (photo: JDC/Vladimir Shraga)

Roza, 84, has a unique family history. Her grandmother fell in love with a Cossack soldier whose commanders insisted that she convert to Russian Orthodoxy before they were allowed to get married.

Instead, the couple returned to the grandmother’s hometown, where, to everyone’s surprise, the soldier converted to Judaism, an uncommon and even dangerous choice during this time.

Roza herself grew up in the world of Jewish theater. Her father was an actor in the Yiddish Theater in Bobruisk, Belarus, and Roza spent her childhood mingling with actors and watching performances from the wings.

But World War II changed everything for Roza. The family fled Belarus in order to escape the invading Nazi army, traveling first to Russia and then to Uzbekistan. After the war, the family returned to Bobruisk, but not to Jewish life. The war and subsequent Soviet crackdowns forced the family to abandon their Judaism. For decades, Roza didn’t hear one Yiddish or Hebrew word spoken and began to forget the traditions of her youth.

Roza married a military man and spent her married life traveling across the former Soviet Union, going wherever her husband’s job took them. Roza and her husband divorced in 1969, and she moved to Yekaterinburg (then Sverdlovsk), Russia, with her two daughters, working as an accountant until her retirement in 1995.

Yekaterinburg’s Jewish life lay dormant throughout the years of Soviet rule. The Jewish community began to revive in the 1990s with the creation of Hesed, a Jewish aid organization supported by the The Fellowship, which Roza joined soon after her retirement. This Jewish atmosphere revived her memories of Jewish life during her childhood, and she began to recall the Yiddish songs she heard in her father’s theater. “I would wake up a night with a tiny piece of melody and a few words in my mind. I jumped up and wrote it down. Then more words and melodies would come,” Roza recalls.

Slowly, Roza began transcribing the songs of her youth, Yiddish creations that were almost forgotten. Today, Roza is the only person in Yekaterinburg who knows how to perform Yiddish songs.

Roza provides enthusiasm and entertainment at Jewish community gatherings with her music. And thanks to The Fellowship, the Jewish community is helping Roza as well, providing her with a bank card to purchase nourishing food. In the past, The Fellowship also provided Roza with a new couch for her apartment, as well as medicine, warm clothing, and shoes.

Roza looks forward to continuing to share her songs with the Jewish community for a long time to come. She knows she is able to keep singing because of The Fellowship’s support, as we provide her with the food and medicine she needs to live out her final years.

You can help people in need like Roza. Learn how. 

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