Warming Hearts in Frozen Ukraine
Yael Eckstein | February 17, 2020
This year, like every year, I went to Ukraine on behalf of The Fellowship to bring aid to needy Jews who are living there.
Whenever I take this trip, people ask me why I go in the winter when temperatures are well below freezing and the weather can be treacherous. The answer is: I go in the winter precisely for those reasons. Every year elderly Jews in the Ukraine die because of the cold, harsh winter. The Fellowship brings aid when it is needed most.
The Middle of Nowhere
Just a few weeks ago, I went house to house visiting elderly Holocaust survivors who have no one in the world to take care of them. They lost their entire families in the Holocaust and in most cases, never married or had children of their own. Bringing them food, water, warm clothing, and blankets can literally save their lives.
Many times, the homes we visited were not accessible by car. We parked and walked ten or fifteen minutes through forests in temperatures so frigid that my legs stung like they were on fire. At the end of our journey we would reach a shack with no electricity and no running water, in the middle of nowhere, with a lonely, old woman huddled up inside.
Sometimes we located a Jewish elderly person in a village that required two hours of travel to reach, and then we would visit another person in a village three hours in a different direction. We had to ask ourselves – should we take the time to visit one of them or both of them? Is this the best use of our time?
‘When I Am Old’
The answer was always, “Yes!” If every single soul is precious to God then they are precious to us! When King David wrote “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone“ (Psalm 71:9), he was talking about people like this, who are nearly forgotten by the world but never forsaken by God. I fully believe that God uses The Fellowship to care for each and every one of his children.
These Jewish elderly, who lost everything in the Holocaust, now live in abject poverty. When they were younger, they could chop enough wood to last the winter, they could pick vegetables in autumn and pickle them for the cold months, and they were strong enough to draw water from an icy well. But now, in their old age, they simply cannot care for themselves.
Every year, there are moments in my visit that touch me deeply, and this year was no exception. One particularly moving moment was when I walked into the home of an elderly survivor and she couldn’t believe that we had found her. She said, “No one knows about me! How did you find me? I’m all alone – no one cares about me!”
‘I Asked God Why?’
When I told her that there are millions of Christians who care about her and pray for her, she was even more overwhelmed. She said, “I’ve been waiting to die. I don’t want to live if I have to live cold, hungry, and hurting all of the time. Every day I asked God why he has kept me alive but now I know why – it’s so that when I die, I will die with a smile on my face knowing I am cared for.”
To me, this woman summed up exactly why I go to Ukraine in the freezing winter. It’s to bring food, lifesaving aid, and perhaps most important, a smile to someone’s face by letting them know that we love them, God loves them, and they will never be forsaken or forgotten.
With blessings from the Holy Land,