The elderly are the most vulnerable members of Israeli society, as they can no longer participate in the workforce but must grapple with rapidly rising costs of living and try to live on insufficient government assistance. The Fellowship hopes to restore dignity and comfort to these precious yet impoverished members of society.
We reach out to tens of thousands of elderly through our With Dignity and Fellowship program, providing food aid and dental care, as well as emergency financial assistance, all across Israel.
Fellowship field representatives are assigned to a specific region of Israel and follow up with the elderly we assist in that area to ensure they receive the most effective aid possible. Our field representatives, who visit the elderly regularly and become closely involved with improving their lives, provide Israel’s elderly community with a sense of hope by assuring them that they are not alone.
The Fellowship’s hands-on approach to helping the elderly allows our representatives to listen to their remarkable life stories. Some have been in Israel since before its Independence, while some made their way to the Holy Land after fleeing dangerous Arab countries. Others survived the horrors of Nazism and Communism before they made the Jewish state their home.
Myla is one of the elderly women The Fellowship helps with food assistance. She, like so many of our recipients, has had an incredible life journey.
Myla was born in Ukraine in 1935, as the threat of war spread across Europe and the former Soviet Union (FSU). During this time, the Soviet Union was ruled by Joseph Stalin, a ruthless dictator who took pleasure in oppressing the Jewish population. And so Myla’s father, Simon, who worked as a journalist, feared for his life and decided, like many Jews living there at the time, to change his name to hide his Jewish identity.
By 1939, fear of Stalin’s cruelty was overshadowed by the threat of war and the dread of the Nazis’ “final solution” for the Jews. Simon was drafted into the Red Army, the name for the Russian National Military Forces, and Myla, her mother, and grandparents moved to the city of Stanislav, Ukraine, to be near Simon, who was deployed there for service.
Forced to Fight
As the Soviets braced for war, Myla’s mother was expecting a new baby. In fact, the day she delivered her son was the last day the family would see Simon for years to come.
When Myla’s mother was in the delivery room at the hospital, Myla held her father’s hand as they strolled to the market to buy some food to prepare for her mother. As they made their way to the market, sirens blared and word spread of an incoming German invasion. Simon picked up his four-year-old daughter and dropped her off at the neighbors’ house as he made his way to join his battalion.
“People began to evacuate the city, especially the Jews,” Myla recalled. “My mother was in the hospital, and so I waited with my grandparents until she returned with my baby brother before we made our escape.”
When Myla’s mother returned home with her baby wrapped in a blanket, they all hopped into their car and began driving towards Russia as fast as they could. “We took nothing but the clothes on our backs,” Myla recalled. “We heard that the Nazis were not far behind, and knew that our only hope for survival would be to escape to Russia as quickly as possible.”
When they ran out of money and gas, they found a railway station with trains heading to Stalingrad, Russia. They boarded one of these trains, which were loaded far beyond capacity. “The air was thick with fear and panic, and barely anyone spoke during that train ride. Only the small babies made noise, crying for food,” Myla recalled.
In Stalingrad, they found a city destroyed by German air strikes. There were shortages of food, water, gas, medicine, and clothing. “I recall my mother somehow obtained 19 pounds of cotton, which she used to make blankets for us. But these blankets weren’t enough to protect us from the freezing cold that invaded every inch of the city.”
The extremely cold temperatures were matched by devastating hunger. Myla recalled the vicious hunger pains that woke her up each night – she would scream and beg for a slice of bread. “My mother would squeeze me tight and whisper in my ear, ‘My sweetest girl, I have nothing to give you. We have no food,’ as we both cried our way back to sleep.”
Wartime Ends and Hope Is Restored
Eventually, the war ended and the family reunited with Simon. Myla’s family relied on hard work and education as a means to rebuild their lives, and also as a way to avoid the painful memories of the past.
“I went to school and earned a degree in literature,” Myla recalled. She married a Jewish engineer, and the two settled in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where they lived their lives under an oppressive communist regime. The Jewish community there hid any observance of Jewish tradition to avoid being severely punished.
Nonetheless, thousands of Russian Jews began to take interest in Israel, but only secretly, since the Jewish state was deemed an enemy of the Soviet Union. “My husband and I were enthralled with Israel’s success, as we secretly listened to American news on the radio in order to learn what was really happening in the Middle East and the world.”
Figures like Natan Sharansky, whose passion for Zionism landed him in a Soviet prison, only inspired Myla and her husband, who dreamed of joining their brothers and sisters in the Holy Land.
Coming Home to Israel
In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Myla and her husband were finally able to make their journey to Israel. “Our dreams and hopes were realized as we stepped off the plane at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport,” Myla cheerfully recalled. Leaving behind a lifetime of vicious anti-Semitism to join her people in their ancestral homeland was a taste of redemption and an answer to all their prayers.
Myla and her husband came to Israel with nothing more than some clothes and family relics in their suitcase. But they were too old to work, and did not even speak Hebrew.
“We struggled financially and fell into poverty,” Myla explained. For many years, Myla lived with her husband in public housing, but when he passed away, she no longer felt safe enough to live there alone, so today she rents a one-room studio for $300 a month.
Myla receives a small government pension, which covers her rent and utilities, but is not enough for her to buy food. Thankfully, she receives a bank card from The Fellowship each month, which she uses to buy food and household goods.
Myla is extremely grateful for the help she receives from The Fellowship. It makes her feel “like a person who is cared about.” She wants to thank The Fellowship “and the incredible people who support The Fellowship, whose help enables me to buy the food I need in order to survive.” Thanks to our donors, Myla doesn’t have to relive the horrors of hunger from her childhood.