Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Very Warm Home

Our Associated (Baltimore Jewish Federation) Partnership Mission to Odessa had an amazing visit to a JDC Warm Home.

JDC's Warm Home program helps the elderly combat loneliness and isolation. For those unable to get to the center itself, the Hesed organizes regular – generally weekly – meetings and snacks in small groups in the home of a host, selected from within the community.  The meetings let the elderly connect and have regular social interaction. It’s an incredible program that battles feelings of seclusion and loneliness.

There are five Warm Homes in Odessa. The one we went to meets in the home of Shura, a volunteer and retired Russian literature teacher. There are nine highly-educated women in their 70s and 80s, all of them smiling, talkative, lively and welcoming.
Before retiring, these women had jobs such as economists, railway engineers, teachers, professors and construction engineers.

The house is over a hundred years old, but well-maintained. Shura’s family has been living in it for several generations – her husband and his father were born there! His father was captured in the house and sent to Gulag (prison camp) during Stalin’s Purges in 1936. Like so much of Odessa, the weight of history is all around us.

And these lovely women come every week to the Warm Home, in addition to the medical, food and homecare support they receive from Hesed.
They celebrate Jewish holidays and celebrations together, they learn together, they chat and argue and enjoy life together. “This is my family,” says Irina, who worked for many years as an editor in the Odessa Film Studios.

We chat with the group for a while. Everyone agrees that there’s a difference between Odessans and Ukrainians. Tonya, a former economist, says that she's been all over the former Soviet Union, and every time she opens her mouth people identify her as an Odessan because of her accent; Odessa was born an open city, it’s a melting pot. We joke that like in New York, even if you're not Jewish you're a little bit Jewish, so it’s the same in Odessa … even if you're not Jewish, there's something in the air here (and the history) that makes you a little bit Jewish.

There’s some agreement that Obama deserved to get elected because he’s handsome. But others don’t agree with his politics. There's a lot of laughter and high-spirited arguments. We tell a few political jokes. Tonya’s seems to be the one that draws the most laughs. It goes something like this:

“Putin talks to God and asks, when will my people stop drinking vodka? God says, not while you’re in power.
Obama talks to God and asks, when will Europe love America again? God says, not while you're in power.
Netanyahu talks to God and asks, when will there be peace in the Middle East? And God says, not while I'm in power!”

It’s an amazing visit. The Warm Home is inspiring because it shows how a life-saving medical and welfare program can provide dignity and community.
Rima, a retired construction engineer, says it best: “without Hesed we wouldn’t be alive; but without the Warm Home we wouldn’t be enjoying life.” 

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