Hessed in Action
by Nathan Roi
Galina Mikhailovna had not realized that in her little room on the outskirts of St. Petersburg she would be hosting Sofa Landver, the Israeli Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Ben Helfgott, a Holocaust survivor and Vice President of the Conference for Material Claims against Germany, Steven Schwager, Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Matthew Bronfman, Chairman of the Limmud FSU International Steering Committee, Dorit Golander, Israel’s ambassador to the Russian Federation, Karmel Shama- Hacohen, Chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, Alex Miller, Chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, and Chaim Chesler, founder of Limmud FSU, together with several other community leaders and journalists from Israel and elsewhere.
Helfgott noted that the Claims Conference pays special attention to caring for Holocaust survivors in the former USSR and will continue so in the future. Schwager said that over the last 20 years, the Joint has spent more than one hundred million dollars a year in caring for about 160,000 elderly Holocaust survivors through its “Hessed” centers (Hessed literally means “mercy”) and believes that their operations have substantially extended the life of their elderly and ailing clients.
Galina Mikhailovna had a very difficult life story. Now an invalid, her parents emigrated to Communist Russia. Her father was arrested by the NKVD in 1936 and was sentenced to death. Her mother was also tried but was released. When the siege of Leningrad began in September 1941, Galina and her mother were deported to Lenovo, in Siberia. On returning to Leningrad, Galina taught history for many years. She never married and lives in a small room by herself. She is infirm and is unable to leave her small apartment. Jewish organizations such as Hessed and others, help her through some 25 hours a week of home visits, food and medications.
Another woman, Rusya Golotonina is 79 years old and is in a more fragile situation. She is bed-ridden, unable to speak or stand up. Her father participated in the siege of Leningrad and she managed to survive, together with her mother, during the nearly 700 days of the siege. After the war she worked in a factory, married and had a son. Her husband died and her son left Russia. She has no other family. Dudi Rodman, director of the JDC in St. Petersburg and Leonid Kolton, director of the Hessed centers in St Petersburg say that Hessed is keeping this elderly woman alive. Chaim Chesler emphasized that the Hessed organization is an embodiment of the phrase “All of Israel is responsible one for the other.” He said, “ It is our historic duty and obligation to look after these people.”
photos courtesy Nathan Roi
translation Asher Weill