American Jews provide social services in former Soviet Union

Between the harsh weather and the equally harsh economic climate, many elderly Jews are struggling to heat their homes.

January 23, 2014 20:51
2 minute read.
People walking in the snow in Siberia

siberia snow cold 521. (photo credit: Gil Shefler)


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It’s cold in the former Soviet Union. With the temperature in Moscow standing at -25 degrees Celsius, many elderly Jews cannot even afford fuel to heat their homes.

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Between the harsh weather and the equally harsh economic climate, many are suffering, according to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

The JDC has just launched its 22nd year of winter relief efforts for tens of thousands of poor Jews across the FSU.

The JDC, or Joint, as it is commonly known, has been providing such services over the two decades since the fall of communism, and, a spokesman told The Jerusalem Post, is planning on delivering “thousands of tons of coal, firewood and gas to needy Jews to heat their homes through the season.”

Medical supplies, food and other necessities will also be provided.

“While our winter relief program is an annual ritual, its life-saving impact can never be taken for granted. As we bundled up across the northeast recently, we got a small taste of the brutal temperatures and challenging conditions that thousands of elderly and poor Jews endure during wintertime.

“It’s a poignant reminder of the critical importance of this program and ongoing presence in the lives of Jews across this vast region,” JDC CEO Alan H. Gill said.

Speaking with the Post in Kiev last year, local JDC official Amir Ben Zvi explained that the lack of a basic social safety net in post-communist Eastern Europe necessitated the Jewish community stepping in to make sure that the disabled, poor, elderly and Holocaust survivors are provided for.

“Every year we provide help to more than 20,000 people,” Oksana Galkecivh, the Ukraine External Relations director at JDC FSU, told the Post on Wednesday.

With 164 welfare centers, known as Cheseds, spread throughout the FSU and over 3,000 employees providing services to Jews in 2,600 locations, the JDC is committed to helping its European co-religionists.

“We are serving 160,000 elderly clients,” she said, citing former Soviet director Vladimir Gorikker as one of those receiving basic services.

It was a shock for her to see Gorikker’s name on the welfare rolls, Galkecivh said, given that she grew up with his films.

The fact that the former celebrity requires aid only serves to underscore the severity of the problems facing the elderly in post-communist Europe.

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