Faith and Light for the Holidays
The Fellowship | December 7, 2022
“World War II began when I turned three,” Tzilia tells us, “and my whole life changed.” Born in Zhytomyr—a city heavily bombed during the ongoing war in Ukraine—Tzilia’s life before the Nazis invaded was one of happiness and faith. Her mother ran the city’s Jewish orphanage—the very same orphanage supported by The Fellowship that was evacuated when the current war began.
But then the Nazis invaded and Tzilia’s world was turned upside down. Her father joined the partisans to fight the occupying Germans. And Tzilia’s mother took her toddler with her as she evacuated the Jewish orphans, who would otherwise be sent to extermination camps, marked for death. The group headed toward safety in the Ural Mountains, the last part of their journey by ship.
Tzilia remembers what happened as the group of Jewish refugees took to the sea. “Kindergarten-age children were placed on the bottom deck, elementary school children on the middle deck, and the older children stayed on the open deck.
“I was the smallest child on the ship, and my mother asked the older children to look after me. Suddenly the German planes were over us, and one of the bombs hit the side of the ship. The lower deck with the kindergarten children was flooded with water, and none of them survived.”
Tzilia barely remembers the bombardment, but her mother never forgot. Nor did her mother forget the murder of her sister, in hiding in Zhytomyr and betrayed by locals. The loss of her sister, and the loss of those young Jewish children haunted her for the rest of her life.
Tzilia, too, has faced loss, including the death from cancer of her 5-year-old grandson, a victim of the Chernobyl disaster. And now, in her old age, Tzilia faces loneliness and poverty, both of which test her faith, especially during the holiday season.
But she does have faith because of caring and friends at The Fellowship who help her buy groceries each month, and stop by for regular visits. On a recent visit, a Fellowship volunteer brought Tzilia a warm blanket for the winter ahead, as well as candles for her menorah, so this faithful Jewish woman can celebrate Hanukkah, a season of light in the dark of winter.