In Moscow, Federation's work spans generations

Federation Campaign Chair Richard Fiedotin and Chief Development Officer Maxine Epstein recently returned from Russia, where they participated on the JFNA's Campaign Chairs and Director’s Mission. Below is Maxine's perspective on the group's visit to a relief center for senior citizens in Moscow.  By Maxine Epstein

In Moscow, I climbed 6 flights of stairs to reach 84 year old Mirra Shukhman’s apartment. When Mirra opened the door, I entered into my own Bubbee’s apartment – circa 1964, Modesto, California.

Perhaps it was the jet-lag, but it was the memory smell that was distorting time. When I looked at Mirra dressed in a pink hand knit sweater and saw her kitchen table, I could see my Bubbee’s hands splattered with flour lovingly kneading that dough. She folded in generations of love to what would magically become our challah for Shabbos. She spoke Yiddish to my father when she did not want me to know what was being said.

But unlike my Bubbee, Mira Shukhman lives alone in one room. The couch also serves as her bed. Mirra never married had no children and she is living out her final days in dignity – because of the support of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the funds we raise here through our Campaign efforts.

“My childhood ended on June 22, 1941” Mirra said, referring to the day Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Born in 1927, Mirra does not know a lot about Judaism, but her parents used Yiddish as a “secret language” in front of her. And Mirra remembers Passover celebrations at her aunt’s house and how her father used to tell her stories from the Torah.

Mirra of Moscow, Russia (right) received guests from the Bay Area Jewish community in her home.

When the Second World War broke out, Mirra’s parents sent her to live with her cousin in Siberia. She endured the hard journey with a 72 year old woman who was a friend of her father. The trip took more than a month, during which they rode in cattle cars and slept outdoors during the bitter cold winter. Mirra’s cousin shared her small rations of food with Mirra, which was barely enough to survive.

Mirra receives a monthly income of $400 per month. She receives fresh food and visits from a homecare worker 8 hours per month. In addition, once a week a worker form the JDC brings her to a “warm house” or Hesed where she visits with other seniors – also isolated and alone. There really are no degrees of separation. Had my grandparents turned right instead of left, I might have been born in Russia.

Our efforts in the Annual Campaign and supplemental gifts to the JDC help the JDC run a network of five Hesed relief centers which provide essential services – food, medicine, home care, and winter relief – to 28,730 destitute Jewish elderly. Whether they live in the city or on the rural outskirts, Hesed’s elderly clients are reliant on this support to survive.

I was very moved by my visit to Mirra's home and the Hesed center, and felt a deep sense of responsibility for the Jewish community both here in the Bay Area and around the world. I hope that this feeling will be shared by many in future generations as well.

The Hesed Chama center in Moscow provides warm food and other services to senior citizens.

Categories: Seniors


July 21, 2011


The Federation