Friday, March 8, 2013

Visit to Hesed Polina – Almaty, Kazakhstan

The heart of Hesed is the library. There are 15,000 books. As we walk in to the building, the “Savlanut” choir of older volunteers sings “Shalom Aleichem.” They practice several times a week, for the past eight years. They appear in concert all over the Jewish community and the wider city events.

We meet with Inessa Chugainoa, the Hesed Director; we visit the elderly in the Day Center, the Literature Club, and see a beautiful photo exhibition.

Hesed has 1500 clients in Almaty; all the work is done by 100 volunteers. As we come into the main (tiny) hallway, they're busy packing food packages for the homebound elderly.

The literature club has been meeting for 13 years; it’s called “Mishpachat Shalom Group.” There are four generations represented in the group, they meet every two weeks.

Svetlana (pink, in the center) is the volunteer director of programming.
The group is reading a Danielle Steel book, “Echoes” about the Shoah; we spend some time discussing its themes and meanings, what can they learn from it. Svetlana summarizes the book for us and says how grateful the group is to the author for writing this story.
We live longer because of the day center, Svetlana says. Everyone here is from Ukraine, Poland, Russia. No one was born in Kazakhstan. All were War refugees … but we’re not lonely here.

In the second room there's a photo exhibit run by the youth – with some terrific photos. Sasha and Nataliya are in charge of the exhibit. Their hobby is photography and they initiated this idea; they decided to go round taking photos of the community, because they see the community as their family, then the idea widened to others in the community, then outside Almaty, then international to other countries. It’s incredibly inspiring. You talk to these terrific young women and see the spark of Jewish community continuing.

In the Day Center:  Ludmilla (purple shirt with red hair) greets us, she was born in Dnepropetrovsk. “We came here, we couldn’t go back. Everything was destroyed. We ran, ran, ran for three years. Here it was better. We built a life here. “

That’s what they did. They built a life here. 

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