Faces of Hope, Lives of Dignity

For too many Jews around the world, poverty is a stark reality.

In the former Soviet Union, elderly Jews who endured Soviet oppression, and others who also survived the Holocaust, are left to piece together a life with only a few dollars a day. Not only must they contend with abject poverty and hunger, many are also alone, as family and friends have left the country or died from disease, tragic accidents, or old age.

For these needy elderly, aid programs like the IFCJ Lifeline, an operational partnership between the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, ensure that they have food on the table and the medications they need to survive.

Through this support, tens of thousands of people who are often forgotten and left behind, enjoy a renewed sense of joy, hope and dignity. The IFCJ Lifeline is part of a multi-faith coalition of partners – including the Claims Conference, Jewish Federations, and many others – who work with JDC to care for those in desperate need.

Here are a few of their stories.

Vera I., 62-years-old from Kiev, Ukraine. Photo credit: JDC.

62-year-old Vera of Kiev has faced more than her fair share of heartbreak, from her struggle to make ends meet every month to a tragic fall that broke both her arms. Yet, with a quiet strength and persistent sense of joy, she perseveres, and gives back to her community, because of the strength she has drawn from the help she has received. “Even though I worked for many years, my pension is tiny. I would starve if I had to live on my pension alone. I don’t want to think about it,” she says of what would happen if she did not receive help through the Lifeline and JDC’s network of Hesed social welfare centers. “I can’t tell you how much this assistance is saving my life.”

Tatiana P, 65-years-old, from Odessa, Ukraine. Photo credit: JDC.

“I’ve taught 160 students, I was a well-regarded nurse and medical masseuse. I’ve helped thousands of people and now I can’t even help myself,” says 65-year-old Tatiana from Odessa. Tatiana was forced to retire because of severe back pain caused by the hours she spent helping others ease their own pain. Her house is a poorly insulated two-room hovel and has not been repaired in years. It takes at least two tons of coal over the course of the winter to keep it warm. To save money on coal, Tatiana uses an electric heater, but that too has run her into debt. She cuts costs wherever she can, growing what she can in her backyard in addition to benefiting from the food she receives through the Lifeline.

Yuliy K., Lifeline beneficiary, Kiev, Ukraine. Photo credit: JDC.

Although he spent much of his adult life working in construction, Yuliy, has little to show for it beyond a $48 dollar a month pension that barely covers enough food for him to survive. Because much of his working life overlapped with Soviet times, he never had savings or any type of personal retirement plan. The place he calls homes is a bare, one-room apartment, where he lives, alone, in central Kiev. His daily diet consists of a piece of bread or a sandwich for breakfast and soup for lunch. “Soup is very important for my health,” Yuriy says. Through the Lifeline, Yuily receives a bank card to buy food and medicine, and special packages for Jewish holidays.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein (left), President and Founder of IFCJ, was presented with a resolution by JDC President Stan Rabin (middle) and JDC CEO David Schizer (right) at the October JDC Board Meeting. Photo credit: Romina Hendlin for JDC.

At its October board meeting, JDC paused to recognize its operational partnership with IFCJ and its founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who has served as a longtime JDC board member. Through its ongoing partnership with JDC, IFCJ has invested $150 million, including $26 million in the last two years, to address the challenges faced by the poorest Jews around the world – men and women like Yuily, Tatiana and Vera, who can live today with a renewed sense of optimism.