From Austin to Odessa, A Lifeline to Jews Overseas

From Austin to Odessa, A Lifeline to Jews Overseas

By Michael Geller

As Jews in Austin celebrate Passover, recalling the exodus from Egypt and marking the holiday with matzah, food and family, others will struggle for survival.

For Nadya B., a 65-year-old in Ukraine, Passover can be a particularly lonely time. Suffering from poor health and living on a pension of only $50 per month, she is one of more than 100,000 elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union living in dire circumstances.

With as little as $2 a day to live on, these elderly Jews couldn’t survive without the support of Shalom Austin through its overseas partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Every year, Nadya receives a box of matzah from JDC, a reminder of childhood traditions and time spent with her Yiddish-speaking grandparents. The life-saving support she receives is delivered by JDC’s Hesed social welfare center in Odessa, Ukraine, where dozens of Jewish seniors in similar circumstances gather to celebrate a seder.

All of this is a comfort to seniors braving each day in a region plagued by rising costs and overall economic collapse. Jews, like their neighbors, are deeply impacted and the most vulnerable — like the elderly— have taken the brunt.

“Our work is a heartening reminder that Passover’s story of deliverance is not a tale of the Jewish past,” said Ira Zborovsky, JDC’s special projects director for the former Soviet Union who was featured in a video presentation at Shalom Austin’s IGNITE! event on March 25.

“We are creating miracles of hope and dignity for poor Jews who survived the traumas of the Holocaust and Communism. As their needs grow, our efforts to care for them must as well," he added.

Zborovsky knows this situation all too well. A native of Odessa, Ukraine, who found out she was Jewish in her early teens, Zborovsky benefited from JDC programs to revitalize Jewish life after the fall of the Soviet Union. She fully embraced her Jewish identity and went on to lead JDC’s operations in Southern Ukraine and Moldova.  

“I have had two outstanding privileges in life: to serve my people and to raise my daughter as a proud Jew. Without the work of JDC — providing aid to the neediest and Jewish opportunity for all who are seeking it — these things would not be possible. Today we are writing a new chapter in the former Soviet Union, one where care for our fellow Jews, and a strong Jewish future, go hand in hand,” said Zborovsky.

This theme is at the heart of JDC’s mission for 100-plus years. Today in 70 countries around the world, JDC saves Jewish lives; builds Jewish life; creates innovative social services to empower Israel’s most vulnerable; and provides a Jewish response to global emergencies. It’s supported in this work by partners such as the Jewish Federations and the Claims Conference, its operational partner, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and many others.

“Our work is rooted in the Jewish value kol YIsrael arevim zeh la zeh, all Jews are responsible for one another,” says Shoshana Kogan Aharon, a Texas native who made aliyah and now works for JDC in Jerusalem. She strives every day to build ties between Jews in America and JDC’s overseas work.

“I’ve seen firsthand the critical role each of us can play in the destiny of our people,” says Aharon, who addressed the crowd at IGNITE! “Through our partnership with Shalom Austin, we’re influencing the course of Jewish history, strengthening Jewish communities and Israel, and providing a lifeline for Jews who have no one else to care for them. It’s a cause we can, and must, get behind.” ■

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