Project Spotlight: Emergency Funds to Elderly in Israel

Ami Farkas  |  June 11, 2019

Illiya talking to the camera as other elderly men are playing games behind him.

Recently, The Fellowship’s Ami Farkas met Illiya, an elderly man living in Sderot, which is a community in southern Israel at risk for rocket attacks since it’s so close to Gaza. When Illiya heard alarms at night, he struggled to rush to a bomb shelter in time because of his age. He worried he’d be asleep and a rocket would hit his building while he was in his bed. Thankfully, The Fellowship was able to help.

Some of Illiya’s earliest memories involve the sounds of explosions and sirens, and the feeling of buildings shaking. Sadly, some of his recent memories involve similar sensations. Now living in the Holy Land, Illiya has come a long way from Kharkiv, Ukraine, where as a seven-year-old boy, he fled the Nazis. And with the help of The Fellowship, the code-red sirens he hears today are at least balanced by the sense of comfort, dignity, and home he has found in the network of Fellowship staff and volunteers, and his Christian friends in the U.S.

Illiya was a boy when WWII broke out. His father was conscripted into the Red Army, and Illiya fled, along with his mother and older brother. They took a train toward southeast Ukraine. At the time, German bombers were targeting trains carrying both refugees and weapons for the Red Army. Sure enough, a bombing raid began just as Illiya’s train approached a cargo train carrying oil.

“We heard loud planes overhead, and then explosions; panic set in and people were trying to escape,” he says. “A man picked me up and threw me off the train out of a small window. A moment later I heard a blast, and I ran as far as fast as I could until I found a place to hide.”

Illiya hid until the bombing stopped. But he was separated from his mother and brother. Rattled by the bombing and distraught at losing his family, Illiya walked the train rails and wept.

Another boy, Pavlic, had also lost his family. The two ventured out together in search of their families and safety, spending weeks drinking from puddles, dodging German air blitzes, and surviving on whatever potatoes they could scavenge.

At last, the two boys made it to a refugee camp in Azerbaijan. “As I walked along a small lake, in the distance I saw a woman who looked familiar,” Illiya says. He ran towards her, screaming, Mama!”

“As soon as my eyes met my mother’s,” he says, “she fainted.” They were reunited there in the camp. After the war ended, they also reunited with Illiya’s father.

Today, 85-year-old Illiya lives in Sderot, where he receives hot meals, comfort, and companionship in a Fellowship social center for the elderly.

Sderot, however, has been hit by thousands of Hamas rockets, and just recently survived another series of rocket attacks. “Just last week, when Hamas was attacking our city with missiles, we were told not to leave our bomb shelters,” Iliya says. Because of his age, Illiya finds it difficult to run to the bomb shelter every time rockets approach in the middle of the night. The Fellowship took charge and bought him a bed for his bomb shelter, so he wouldn’t have to flee every time a siren sounds.

The Fellowship has turned an unbearable situation into something I can manage,” Iliya says. “I was always terrified that a rocket would hit my building while I was lying in bed, and now, when we are at war – which happens quiet often, I can at least have the security of sleeping in the bomb shelter thanks to your gift.”

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