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“You Have No Idea How Much This Gift Will Help Me”

Raisa_winter warmth_14344055

Raisa is an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor. “God bless you!” she says as I deliver a Fellowship heating check and warm blanket that will help her survive the cold winter. “I often go days without a visitor. Your visit means as much to me as your generous gift. The money will warm my home, but you have warmed my heart!”

A woman of grace and elegance, Raisa wipes away tears when I ask her to recall her younger days during the Holocaust. “These are memories I live with on a daily basis. I was 13 years old at the time and I remember it all as if it happened just yesterday.”

Raisa was born in the former Soviet republic of Moldova. “In 1941, I was 13 years old. On the night of June 22 I heard mortar shells being fired by the Nazis.  The Nazi planes began dropping bombs. It looked as if the sky was on fire. My parents decided we needed to get away, for what we thought was to be a short time. We ran to a neighboring city, and were able to escape over the bridge. As soon as we got to the train station the Nazis again started bombing. We ran on foot over the train tracks. Later we were told that all of the Jews who hadn’t managed to escape had been placed in a ghetto.” Raisa’s voice drops. “I don’t think any of those Jews survived the war.”

Running from city to city, Raisa’s family was soon broken up as her father was drafted into the Soviet army. “All young, healthy men were needed, and my father had to leave us behind. There was little food and it was bitterly cold. My mother became so sick I had to pick her up and carry her for miles in the snow until I found a hospital that could take care of her.”

For two and a half years, Raisa, her mother, and brothers moved from city to city. “We hid in a coal train. We only had the clothes on our backs. We had no money and there were whole days when we went without food. We were in an open railway car in subzero cold. I can’t tell you how many Jews died from the cold and the hunger.”

Raisa and her mother did whatever they could to survive. “Although my mother was still weak and sick, she would sew clothing in exchange for cornmeal. I worked as a guard at a factory. Even my younger brothers worked so we could eat. We would often hear of friends and relatives who had died.  This is the way we lived.”

When the war finally ended in May 1945, Raisa and her family returned to Moldova. “Our house was destroyed. My grandmother and aunt had died from hunger. Many cousins either died during the war or didn’t return. To top it off, a drought led to horrible famine.” After the war, Raisa married. She and her family worked and made do with what they had.

In 1991 Raisa and her husband made aliyah (immigrated to Israel). But life in Israel has been difficult. “When we first arrived, it very hard,” she says. “We didn’t speak the language. We were already in our sixties and couldn’t work in our chosen professions. My husband did some gardening work. I worked as a babysitter. “

Raisa sheds a tear as I ask about her husband. “He passed away in 2001 after a long illness. He never quite acclimated to the country. I learned some Hebrew, but my husband never did. Still, he never regretted for a moment our decision to live in the Jewish homeland.”

Raisa tells me she also faces daily difficulties. “I’m 86 years old. I’m sick and I have no one to help me. There are days when I don’t even have the strength to go to the grocery and buy bread or milk. I live on a few hundred dollars a month, with which I have to pay rent, buy food and medicine, and pay the utilities. There’s simply not enough money. I can’t afford to heat my home. You have no idea how much this gift will help me.”

Before I leave, Raisa says this to The Fellowship’s donors: “I’m very grateful that you’re helping elderly Jews who have nowhere else to turn. Knowing that there are people who think we’re important and who want to take care of us makes me happy. Thank you for everything.”

Tags: Crisis and Need

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The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) funds humanitarian aid to the needy in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world, promotes prayer and advocacy on behalf of the Jewish state, and provides resources that help build bridges of understanding between Christians and Jews.

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