Project Spotlight: Providing Israeli Elderly With Dignity & Fellowship

The Fellowship  |  August 30, 2016

Elderly Jewish man with headphones in sitting on a bed.
Project Spotlight: Providing Israel's Elderly With Dignity and Fellowship

When The Fellowship learned about the plight of thousands of Israel’s elderly living in poverty – many forced to choose between paying for rent or food or medicine, as they can’t afford them all – we launched our With Dignity and Fellowship program. Through a vast team of staff and volunteers, this program helps Israel’s elderly – many of them Holocaust survivors – with food, medicine, and companionship.

A Blessed Beginning

Boris was born in 1931 in the small city of Mozdok, in the former Soviet Union (FSU). He was a rabbi’s son and, even now, at the age of 85, he still recalls the joyful celebrations of the Jewish holidays in his home before the Nazi invasion in 1942.

“There was no synagogue in Mozdok and so on the holidays my parents would invite the Jews of the town to come pray and eat in our home,” Boris recalled. “What a blessed and joyful time!”

During those years, the Jews of Mozdok lived in relative quiet with their Chechen neighbors. But by the time Boris reached the age of 11, those happy childhood memories would be forgotten, as the Nazis invaded and occupied his town.

Boris’ home was one of the first Jewish homes to be raided. “They threw us out on the streets like animals,” Boris recalled. And just like that, the Nazis converted his home into a barracks for German soldiers.

Nonetheless, the Nazis still needed some time to prepare and organize rounding up the Jews of Mozdok, which gave Boris and his family just enough time to flee to his uncle’s home in Chisinau, Moldova. But the Nazis eventually arrived in this region as well.

Boris’ uncle was too sick to even attempt an escape, and his father had already decided that he would not leave his brother behind to be tortured and killed alone. And so Boris knew it was only time before the Nazis harmed his entire family.

Daring Escapes

As the Germans began rounding up all the Jews into cattle cars, Boris waited in line with other kids his age. Suddenly, he heard his uncle cry out with all his might, “Run, Ben-Zion. Run!”

Ben-Zion is Boris’ Jewish name. And when he heard his uncle scream the name that was given to him at his circumcision, he knew he needed to listen to his uncle. So Ben-Zion ran into the fields along with his friend Nachshon as Nazi guards began firing.

One of the bullets caught Boris under his left eye, but the bullet only lightly cut him. During the next few days, Boris and Nachshon hid in the forest until they felt it was safe enough to go back towards town. Upon their return, they heard the terrible news: The Nazis had shot and killed all the Jews in the cattle cars.

Over the next few weeks Boris and Nachshon remained in hiding, but they eventually made their way back to Mozdok. They entered the city broken, starving, and exhausted.

Once again the Jews were rounded up into cattle cars at the local train station, but now Boris and Nachshon had nowhere to run. However, about 20 minutes after the train left the station, Boris was miraculously given a second chance to escape.

A Russian air force plane bombed the long stretch of cattle cars. Most of people in the cars died immediately, but Boris and the other survivors ran into the surrounding forest. Boris lost his friend Nachshon during the bombing, but he quickly found a group of other survivors to join. They banded together, and kept each other alive by finding food sources and keeping a lookout to avoid Nazi troops. Eventually, they made their way back into Russian-controlled territory.

When the Russians succeeded in pushing the Nazi army back towards the west, Boris returned to his bombed city. “I eventually met up with some surviving family members and moved in with them after the war,” Boris recalled.

Starting Over

In the years that followed, Boris tried to forget about the war and all that he had lost. Instead, he focused on rebuilding his life. Boris was naturally gifted in music and arts, and went on to become a theatre director. He lived a full life, enjoying a happy marriage and three children who all moved to Israel.

In 1995, at the age of 64, Boris made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) with his wife. “My Jewish name is Ben-Zion (Son of Zion). My father named me after Zion, because of our hopes, dreams, and prayers to return to the Holy Land,” Boris explained.

Like Israel’s elderly immigrants who relocate in Israel from the FSU, Boris lost his pension. Because he is also too old to return to work, he lives in poverty and illness. His wife passed away eight years ago, and since then, Boris’ Parkinson’s disease has only gotten worse. Boris also suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, and hearing problems.

As Boris grows older, his health deteriorates. Thankfully, The Fellowship has been giving Israel’s elderly like Boris ongoing assistance for over a year.

Restoring Boris’ Joy

Last year, an Fellowship field representative, Ziva Sasson, began visiting Boris to help him with his illness and loneliness. “He lives alone in a small, dilapidated apartment with no furniture besides a television, a coffee table, and an old couch, which he uses as a bed.”

Last year, The Fellowship bought a wardrobe for Boris, as he used to stuff his clothing into garbage bags. The Fellowship purchased Boris a hearing device and a radiator to keep him warm in the winter. He also receives ongoing food assistance, so he will not go hungry.

After everything Boris has been through, he feels so blessed that in his final years of life Christians around the world support and love him.

The Fellowship saved my life and restored my joy. I want to thank and bless all who have helped me by making sure I remain in good health. May you live a long, blessed life!”