International Fellowship of Christians and Jews: Helping the victors

For the IFCJ, Victory Day is a holiday commemorated year-round with its philanthropic efforts helping needy veterans and their families

A World War Two veteran holds a flower and Israel's national flag during a march in Jerusalem commemorating the 70th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day May 10, 2015 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A World War Two veteran holds a flower and Israel's national flag during a march in Jerusalem commemorating the 70th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day May 10, 2015
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For many World War II veterans who immigrated to Israel in the war’s aftermath, a life of hardship has been a matter of course. Although they are no longer dodging bullets in besieged towns in Eastern Europe, the battle continues – this time, an ongoing one with poverty.
As a former veteran, Ariel Weinstein is among the many whose hardships of the past have helped him overcome the struggles he contends with today.
The 90-year-old St. Petersburg veteran, who currently lives in Migdal Ha’emek, was only 14 when his life changed forever.
“I remember that we were hungry all the time,” Weinstein recalled before Victory Day, which will be commemorated on Wednesday. “We lived in our small kitchen because the rooms were bombed, there were no windows and those were very cold winters.”
Eventually, at 17, Weinstein was drafted and sent to the front where death seemed all but inevitable.
“I knew that my life was in constant danger, but I was not afraid.  At least I knew what my purpose was. I knew I was defending the country and that gave me strength,” Weinstein explained, adding that he also found solace in the fact that despite being Jewish, he still felt accepted in the Red Army.
Today, Weinstein’s commitment to service has come full circle as he has a grandson who proudly fulfills his reservist duties in the IDF, another grandson who is an officer in the Israeli Air Force and a great-granddaughter who is set to enlist in the IDF soon.
But life for those like Weinstein is not easy. And he is only one of 20,000 elderly people who benefit from the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews’ (The Fellowship) assistance program.
“I live on an old-age pension from the National Insurance Institute. The Fellowship’s monthly aid allows me to increase my food budget and buy more food,” he said.
For Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of The Fellowship, this abject condition many veterans and Holocaust survivors live in today is shameful.
 “Many elderly Holocaust survivors in Israel are in fact, heroes,” Eckstein said. “They fought with the Red Army to save the world from Nazi regime. Yet many of these heroes and survivors are, sadly, living their final days in poverty.”
“The Fellowship provides more than 20,000 elderly living below the poverty level with a measure of dignity, by providing food, medicine and other basic necessities every day. All this, thanks to our Christian supporters around the world,” he added. “But Israel can and must do more for its elderly population”.
For Siberian-born Ganghi Gerasimov, another Fellowship beneficiary, being willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of his country was a choice. At 17, he enlisted despite the army’s initial refusal.
“They did not want to accept me because I was still a minor,” he said, “but it was important for me to fight, and all my friends wanted to fight.”
Gerasimov ultimately served as a naval electrician on a Russian submarine that was under constant threat of Japanese attack.
His wife, Isabella, had her own tales of hardship during the war: Her father was killed in battle and her life was at risk in Odessa where she lived. Isabella is in debt to her grandmother – who was not Jewish – for hiding her during the war.
“We were six people in a small room, and I still remember the lice and the hunger,” she recalled.
While The Fellowship cannot erase the memories of the horror they endured, we are dedicated to ensuring that every veteran in Israel lives the last years of their lives in peace and dignity.
This article was written in cooperation with The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.