Faces of The Fellowship: Sofia

The Fellowship  |  August 7, 2019

Sofia Terigov, IFCJ recipient looking directly into the camera.

Some of Sofia’s earliest memories are her most frightening. At the age of 5, her idyllic life was shattered when she fled Ukraine with her mother, young brother, and grandparents from the invading Nazis.

With dozens of others, they headed for Kazakhstan. The journey was arduous, the conditions deplorable and filthy. Water and food were minimal. Many on the journey did not survive, including her grandfather.

When they arrived in Kazakhstan, Sofia and the rest of the family were sick with typhoid. Her younger brother died shortly after they reached their destination. Next, her grandmother passed away. Only Sofia and her mother were left.

She remembers the horrors like it was yesterday. She was left alone—at just 5 years old—in a cramped room full of refugees while her mother was taken to hospital. Her mother eventually returned, bald and still ill. They were ushered to a small concrete room without heat in frigid temperatures. They were unsure if they would freeze before morning.

Thankfully, she and her mother survived the unthinkable. After the war years, she worked as a school teacher. She married, but 4 years later, she was widowed at a young age.

She was eventually able to make aliyah (immigrate to Israel), arriving in Israel at 62 years old. The transition was tough. She spoke no Hebrew, only Russian, but felt God was watching over her.

At one point, a stranger on the street asked her in Russian, “Are you new here?” The woman was a professor in Tel Aviv and taught her Hebrew. They became fast friends.

“God smiled down and sent me angels,” says Sofia.

Still, life is difficult for Sofia. She lives with another widowed ex-teacher from the Ukraine. In Israel, when a spouse dies, the elderly pension of the couple is cut in half even though the bills stay the same. Most of the time, the change is crippling. And so, Sofia was forced to find a roommate.

Sofia suffers physically. She has a disease that has left her crippled in one knee. She struggles to complete daily tasks. She also struggles emotionally. Her professor friend passed away, and once again she’s been left alone. She says the Fellowship is her only assistance and companion.

The monthly grocery cards she receives are a source of excitement for her. She says they bring her dignity and allow her to eat and enjoy basics in her final years that she would otherwise go without.

Sofia received a stove and a microwave with the help of Fellowship donors and is eager to convey her appreciation. “Thank you. Thank you so much! I don’t know what more to say. There are not enough words to say thank you to you. And I speak on behalf of all the elderly and others you help.”

The profound joy and gratitude that Sofia exudes despite her extraordinary hardship is truly remarkable. She remains soft and unhardened by her experiences. She values what she has and says she longs for nothing, because she feels blessed beyond belief.

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