Monday, October 22, 2012

Home visit with elderly client in Moscow

Frida was born 89 years ago in Moscow. Her father was an economist and her mother was the daughter of a cantor.

She graduated from Moscow University of Printing Arts. During the war she was evacuated to Kazakhstan, where she spent 2 years. She met her future husband, a journalist, on May 9, 1945, Victory Day.

Frida faced rejection when applying for jobs at newspaper companies, because she's Jewish. She finally found work at a magazine company, Young Bolshevik, for a year before being fired. She then worked for a medical magazine and went on to edit medical books.

Her husband died in 1978. they had no children. Frida retired in 1996 and has two nieces who help take care of her. Since 2000 she's been helped by JDC's Hesed program.

Frida suffers from asthma. She also has problems with her hips and must use a cane when moving about. She tries to leave the house when weather permits.

Frida lives in a clean, compact two-room apartment.

Her monthly income is $455

Hesed services provided:
Homecare: 27 hours per month
Food cards

She can't cook and clean for herself anymore. 
It’s a nice clean apartment. Dark. Lots of books on the walls.

She lives on the 8th floor but there’s an elevator. She walks slowly with her cane. She has a lovely smile, she had her hair done because she heard a group was coming to visit.

"Hesed helps me so much. I’m 89 years old and it’s difficult living here on my own. My case worker is so helpful, that’s so important. She's so nice. Her name is Valyntina, she cleans the house, and cooks. She's been with me for 7 years, she knows the house. I am so grateful for that."

"My father comes from a traditional family in Belarus, grandpa was Orthodox, a yeshiva student, his wife worked in a bakery. Two of his brothers were killed in the war." One of her brothers, his wife and their two children were killed in the Minsk Ghetto. She cries a little when she tells us this story about the war. For her the Germans are “Nazis”.

"My mother was born in Central Asia. My father was a 'Cantanist' (drafted into the army for 30 years as a small boy), his wife went with him from Poland and her mother was born there in Kakanda, with a small Jewish population. They divorced and she worked in a bakery making cakes. She met my grandfather – he was 20 years older than her, they had 6 kids (Frida’s mom is the youngest), with a 20-year gap between them."

Many cantanists converted to Christianity, but hers didn't - the family kept Jewish traditions and rituals. In mother’s family they spoke Russian, in father’s they spoke Yiddish.

Her mother’s older brother was a successful trader, and was graded (there were three grades of traders) as successful so he was allowed to move to Moscow. Her mother came with him.
Her father studied in Belarus then moved to St. Petersburg then to Moscow.
They were married in 1919 by the Chief Rabbi of Moscow in the Choral Synagogue. There was a big celebration. They had 3 children, they lived together 50 years, then mother lived on for another 20 years after his death.
Her eldest brother is 92 next month, he was a biologist, was Director of a Zoology Museum, expert on horses, still writes academic papers, lives in Moscow. In the war he served in the Army, knows German.

"I worked in printing houses, mostly on scientific papers, I worked hard. I have an 80-year old younger sister, she lives in Warsaw, she married a Pole in 1956, every summer she comes to visit. Well, she's young, she can still travel.
My mother lived to age 94, she was ill for an hour and a half, we all came into her apartment, she said, I’m 94 and I’m going. We live long lives in our family.
I met my husband on Victory Day in May 1945, he was a radio journalist. He died aged 61. We lived in this apartment – the building was built for journalists so we were moved to here.
It was difficult to be a Jew in our professions. As a student I wanted to be a journalist. In university they sent me to an internship to write about literature, but in the newspaper they said that they wouldn’t hire me afterwards because I’m a Jew. I lost my job under Stalin, because they got rid of all the Jews. I had some experience in medical literature, so I became an editor in two periodicals – not part of the team, but on a contract, I wasn’t registered as a permanent employee (because she is Jewish).
In the radio it was even worse but my husband was promoted because – they told him – they needed a “decoration” to show that they're not firing all the Jews.
After a few years I got a permanent job in printing and editing."

"In this time the Jewish intelligentsia thrived. We would go to the theater, we went to concerts and listened to music, to lectures about literature. It wasn’t easy, and there was harassment  but that’s the way we lived. I was fired twice, but each time they gave me a warm recommendation – they didn’t want to fire me, but they had to (because she was Jewish)."

"I was evacuated to Kazakhstan for a year with my university. Then they moved us back. In 1943 all the girls from the university were sent to the forests to cut down trees. We were gentle and light, we were starving. They gave us very little food and lots of cigarettes."

"I'm old," she says. I’ve met old 60-year olds. She’s strong and attractive. What’s her secret? "Thanks for the compliment," she says, "you’re a liar. This actually isn’t a good time for me, the weather affects my asthma. But, ok, my brother the biologist says that I’m the proof of the importance of good genes. And I have a lust for life. My brother has a great-grandson, 3.5 months old, already trying to sit up, which is normally something you do at 6 months, we’re very proud." (Her eyes light up when she talks about him). "His name is Gregory, I’m his “aunt”, that’s what they call me, rather than Great-Great-Aunt. He lives here in Central Moscow. I’m meeting him for the first time in two days. I’m so excited. I have some contact with the family. It’s a shame I was born so many years ago and I couldn’t have the opportunities that you have now. But I have great memories.
My life story is the story of the Jews of Moscow and Russia in the last century. We received education and culture, we were evacuated and dispersed."

That's what her story is ... it's the story of the Jews of Moscow and Russia in the last century.

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