In the weeks leading up to Passover, staff and volunteers with The Fellowship have been delivering food boxes, filled with the special items needed for the seder meal, to Israelis involved in our With Dignity and Fellowship program. With Dignity and Fellowship provides impoverished elderly Israelis, many of them Holocaust survivors, help with food, medicine, and companionship.
The following story illustrates how needed this assistance is, and how very appreciative our With Dignity and Fellowship participants are for this special holiday help.
“You’re Showing Me the Love I Need to Keep Going”
As we arrive at the dilapidated building in northern Israel, Elina Gurovich, The Fellowship's local coordinator for the With Dignity and Fellowship program, leads us up the long set of stairs to Clara’s one-room third-floor apartment. As Clara opens the door and sees the large package filled with Passover foods that will allow her to celebrate the holiday with dignity, she gives Elina a big hug. The warm connection between the two women is obvious.
"Clara's my adopted grandmother," says Elina, "and I love her." Upon hearing this, Clara begins to cry. As she apologizes for this emotional outburst, Clara explains, "I'm a Holocaust survivor, and I'm so overwhelmed by the love that l receive from The Fellowship and from Elina."
Clara talks about her recollections from the Holocaust: "In 1941, when I was 7 years old, the Nazis started bombing Moscow. My father, like all able-bodied young men, had already been drafted into the Soviet army to fight the Nazis. Because we were Jewish, our family had to run for our lives. I don't remember exactly who it was, but someone told us we needed to get on one of the cargo trains and get out of Moscow. The train took my mother, my aunt, my cousins, and me to the city of Kazan in Tatarstan. We were there until the end of the war.
“What I remember about those years is being sick, afraid, infested with lice, and always hungry. I didn't remember what bread tasted like during those years. Sometimes my aunt was able to bring home some potatoes from work if she could find something that people had left behind. From 1941 until the end of the war, the only food we really ate was fruit from the trees."
With all the personal hardship that Clara suffered during the Holocaust, what haunts her most is what the Nazis did to her grandfather. "My grandfather was a rabbi in Ukraine. When the Nazis invaded Ukraine in 1941, they came to his synagogue and wanted my grandfather and the others to burn the Torah scrolls. When they refused, the Nazis took their knives and slaughtered birds so there would be blood. They then made all the people take off their clothes and dance for them. After that they brought in attack dogs and locked the doors. The dogs ate them alive."
After taking a moment to compose herself, Clara says, "All I remember about my grandfather is the smell of tobacco on his beard and one picture of him with my father and their family. That's all that survived."
Following the war Clara's family moved back to Moscow, where she eventually married. "My husband had a very important job teaching in the university, but he passed away in 1990 when he was only 58 years old," she says sadly.
Clara herself had a successful career teaching nursing students. What she remembers most happily about those years is when there would be international festivals. "I would go to them and look for Israelis," says Clara. "I always felt a strong connection to Israel, but I refused to make aliyah [immigrate to Israel] when the FSU collapsed in 1987 because I knew my husband would never be able to find a position like he had in Moscow. Then my husband died and I felt that I had nothing in the FSU except for memories, so I came here in 1991."
Clara continues: "When I came to Israel, I had to leave everything behind. Despite all of the years I worked in my profession, I don't get any of the pension I earned in Russia. The Israeli government gives me social security, but it just isn't enough to take care of all of my needs. Half of it goes to the rent for this small apartment. After paying the rent, I don't have enough to cover food, medicine, and clothing, which are all so expensive."
Clara explains that in addition to the monthly food deliveries she receives from The Fellowship's virtual supermarket, she also received her bed from our emergency fund. "I didn't have any money to buy a bed, so I was sleeping on an old broken bed that someone had given me. It was in terrible shape and my back hurt so much because of it. When Elina visited me at home after I was accepted into the With Dignity and Fellowship program, she immediately said that she would do something about it. The next thing I knew, The Fellowship bought me a new bed!"
Clara then explains that this generosity made her think of something that happened when she was a child during World War II. "In 1944, America sent donations of clothing to the FSU. I received a winter coat and a hat. I can't tell you how good I felt when I wore that warm clothing. When The Fellowship gives me all of these things that I need so much, it reminds me of when I was a child – and I feel as good as I did then.
“Thank you very much, even though saying thank you isn't enough. It's so important to me that The Fellowship is thinking about me and taking care of me when I need this help so desperately. I need the food, but food isn't enough to sustain a person. You're giving me the attention and showing me the love that I need to keep going.
“The fact that this is all coming from Christians is even more important. I really don't have the words to express how good I'm feeling about this gift and everything you do for me. I want to tell all the donors that I pray that God will give you back everything that you've given to me from your heart. I hope you'll always be happy and safe. Please don't ever stop doing good for others; it's very important to help each other." Thanks to you, Clara has experienced that beautiful truth firsthand.
Help provide a Passover food box to a poor family or elderly Jew in Israel or the former Soviet Union this holiday season.