“I live behind a wall and you bring life to me.”
These are words that Berta, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, said to me when I visited her recently at her apartment in Sofia, Bulgaria.
I met Berta during my recent tour of Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City’s partner regions in Bulgaria and Romania. I was fortunate to have Patricia (Tricia) Werthan Uhlmann, long-time Kansas Citian and active member of Jewish Federation’s overseas partner agency, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) ,
as my guide.
But more about Berta’s story:
She and her son, Valo, live in one room as it is too costly to heat both rooms of their 2-room apartment. Valo, now 64, recently lost his leg. Unable to walk after 2 unsuccessful prostheses, he is confined to the apartment, which is located on the fifth floor of a 5-floor walkup.
Berta is diminutive, wearing many layers of clothing over her back brace to stay warm. The brace helps her with injuries sustained during the Holocaust, when she was a member of the resistance. Berta is feisty, upbeat and very proud of the medals she received for her contributions to the resistance during the war. Yet, even with her inner strength, she fills up with tears when she speaks of her son. “I only want him to walk,” she tells us. Tricia, with her many contacts, will try to make a connection to help Valo get the services he needs.
We then met with Daria, the Director of the Sofia JCC, where we learn their kindergarten started six years ago with just three children. Today, the school has 80 children enrolled. Daria is young and energetic – a new generation of leadership under the able stewardship of Jewish community volunteer, Dr. Alek Oscar, Shalom Board Chair and Julia Dandolova, Shalom CEO.
In addition to meeting the needs of their elders and educating the youngest members of Sofia’s revitalizing Jewish community, Alek and Julia focus much of their time on Jewish identification and education for those in the “Middle Generation” – people who know little about their Jewish heritage after living behind the Iron Curtain for much, or all of their lives. It was heartwarming to see the incredible programs our community supports for this group of individuals for whom Judaism could easily have been lost forever. The programs specifically target the needs and interests of Sofia’s young Jewish adults and the middle generation, enabling participants to explore their Jewish heritage and Jewish life. And giving them the opportunity to become active members of a tight-knit, supportive community, an opportunity not allowed during the Communist era.
Click here for photos
Our Partnership with Romania
In Bucharest, we are also doing great things. Under our Safety Net area of service, we support a program that provides much-needed medicine to children. Currently 202 sick and disabled children in Jewish Romania have a medical safety net to fall back on for things many of us take for granted: vaccines, vitamins, and medical exams that are not covered by the Romanian government’s public healthcare system. Families also receive financial support for emergency surgeries, medications, post-surgery rehabilitation and other vital medical-related services.
One recipient we met is Denisa Blendea, a 15-year-old with a rare and severe neurological disorder. She lives under the care of her grandmother (her mother abandoned her after learning of her diagnosis) and is confined to a wheelchair which does not adequately support her. Again, Tricia insists we get Denisa a new wheelchair large enough to support her. Her grandmother is beyond appreciative. Thanks to the support of donors like you, we – the Jewish Federation and our community of donors – have the power to make these things happen. As Berta said to us in Bulgaria, we bring life.
|Pictured above, left to right: Denisa (in wheelchair), Denisa's grandmother, Tricia, and Helene
Moving on to our Senior Adults area of service, we enjoyed visiting a Warm Home in Bucharest. This is a heartwarming program (no pun intended) where elderly adults meet regularly to provide companionship and community for one another. Our host, Edith Florian, a bubbly and social 90-year-young woman, welcomes four other seniors into her home each month.
One of the nicest things about our partnership is the ability to trade great ideas and learn from each other throughout the years. The Warm Home program is a great example of something that Kansas City could adopt. Like The J’s Heritage Center,
the goal is to provide opportunities for socialization for our seniors in a comfortable, safe environment. Whether in the Heritage Center, or in a home, the same group has the opportunity to meet often to socialize, share stories and provide support for each other. It’s a Chevra.
We may live thousands of miles apart, but my trip opened my eyes to the fact that we are all family. We can – and do – share and learn from one another. Whether in Eastern Europe, Israel or in the heart of the U.S., we are all one. And we came together as one, singing Hebrew songs, toasting L’chayim and sharing stories. I am so proud to be a part of the difference we make for the 4,000 Jews in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the 8,000 Jews who live in Romania.
Your generosity and support of our Community Campaign makes all of this possible. Thanks for caring, and thanks for giving generously. You can make your 2017 Community Campaign gift today,
knowing that your gift will make a remarkable difference in the life of someone – here at home or around the world. And remember, all new and increased gifts will be matched dollar-for-dollar, thanks to our challenge grant!
I invite you to click here to view photos
from our trip to Romania and Bulgaria, to see how your gift changes lives.