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Elderly Jews in Dire Need Aided in the Former Soviet Union rss

Posted on: January 21st, 2014

Leonid’s childhood in Ukraine under the Nazi occupation was a difficult one. Until his recent passing, he still lived in the town he grew up in, alone, homebound by numerous illnesses and poor vision. More than 150,000 elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union are surviving only with the help of the American
Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a UJA-Federation of New York beneficiary agency.

Elderly Jews in former Soviet Union - JDC

A homebound woman in her 90s in the former Soviet Union who received help from a homecare worker with obtaining food and medicine. Photo: Sarah Levin

“Here in New York, there are things like community centers and daycare centers,” says Marcia Eppler Colvin, chair of UJA-Federation’s Taskforce on Aging. “Those don’t exist in the same way in the former Soviet Union.”

“Basically, as a result of the fall of communism, the first thing that collapsed was the social welfare system; the state wasn’t able to provide for its own citizens,” explains Rina Edelstein, director of strategic partnerships at JDC. “Slowly, social services have come back to a small extent in the big cities, less so in [smaller] cities,” she adds.

Over the past decades, JDC, with extensive support from UJA-Federation, has built a network of 126 Hesed welfare agencies that serve these elderly Jews in need across 11 time zones.

Seniors Jewish Former Soviet Union UJA-Federation

A woman in her 70s in her Ukraine apartment where she received help from Hesed. Photo: James Nubile

The greatest need of all is home care; without it, many Jewish seniors wouldn’t be able to access food, medicine, or warm clothes to endure the brutal winters. In his later years, Leonid’s nearest Hesed center sent a homecare worker to his house 25 hours each week. The aide helped Leonid with his hygiene, shopping, and food preparation.

But there has been much progress in recent years. “From Siberia in the east to Belarus in the west in the former Soviet Union, an elderly Jew will know what Hesed is and know that that’s a place that they can go for help and assistance,” says Edelstein.

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