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The Joint Australia - Ukraine

Voice from the Ukraine Crisis

A Holocaust survivor, Natalia Y, 94, escaped her hometown of Pervomais’k, Ukraine, within an inch of her life. That was 1941 when she and her family fled along with thousands of others on evacuation trains. More than 82 years later, Natalia is experiencing a different sort of crisis in Ukraine — but thankfully, she has all of us at JDC, along with our longtime partners at Claims Conference.

Now that we’re in the middle of the High Holidays, Natalia meditates on the sweetness of Jewish life and the care she receives in Odesa, where she now lives.

Here is Natalia in her own words:

Two years ago, I tripped over a stool and hit my head. I became immobilized. That’s when Tanya, my JDC homecare worker, entered my life.

Tanya has a mother. But if she didn’t, I’d adopt her. It’s strange — there’s a huge age gap between us, but we live in unison. We understand each other. She often knows exactly what I want to say in advance of me saying it.

She’s also a lifesaver. She walks with me. She tidies up. She does the washing. She cooks. (Sometimes, when I feel well, we cook together.) Though I cherish these things, here’s what matters most: She acts like she’s family.

Without JDC, I wouldn’t know Tanya. JDC — as well as the Claims Conference — arrived at a crucial point in my life, and since then I’ve found my own Jewishness. At Odesa’s JDC-supported Hesed social welfare center, I’ve learned about Jewish traditions, Jewish holidays, and met other Jewish people like me.

I never had this kind of life as a young girl, during the war.

When the Second World War began, there was bombing, and my family and I escaped on the train. When we arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan, there appeared six women near our train. They took us by the hand and they took us to their home. They treated us to their famous Almaty apples.

I’ve remembered these apples my entire life. And strange as it may sound, I think about them right now, during this crisis. During the High Holidays, when I dip apples in honey and celebrate Rosh Hashanah with my community, it seems to me that I’m back in Almaty in 1941.

I also feel this sweetness whenever I’m with Tanya or at Hesed. I take the elevator to the second floor of the building, meet one friend after another, and feel some peace, some warmth, filling my life. JDC is divine help — a combination of material, moral, and spiritual support that enriches my soul.