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From the Frozen land to the Promised land

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“I didn’t want to come to Israel at first, but I am very happy to be here. Soon after I arrived I felt at home and that I had been here all my life,” says Polina, an elderly immigrant from the FSU.

Polina and other members of her extended family had never discussed going to Israel, but one day her son’s friend told her son, “I will go there because my mother is Jewish.” Polina’s son replied, “And my mother is Jewish!” This was the beginning of Aliyah for Polina’s family. Even when Israel is not part of a Jewish person’s thinking, God draws them people back home.

Three-year-old Polina, her baby sister, mother and other family members fled from Ukraine ahead of the advancing German army and its accompanying ‘Final Solution’. The oncoming winter’s cold and German bombardment were part of that terrifying flight, first by foot and later by train. 

The family eventually found two rooms in Ural, in which the ten family members could live. Polina’s mother found work that took her away from early morning to late at night, and with her father in the Red Army the little girls were looked after by uncles, aunts, and grandparents. Polina remembers the pain of being cold and hungry. Potatoes dug out of the frozen ground kept the family alive. After the war her father returned, but they continued to live in Ural, where Polina started school. Finally, they returned to Ukraine although nothing remained of their former life. They shared a small house with their grandparents in a forest village, and Polina recalls the dirt floor being cleaned before each Sabbath.

Poverty and hardship continued. At 6am Polina would line up to buy bread hoping there would still be loaves, or even part of a loaf left, when it was her turn. The cold and hungry 8-year-old dared not to nibble at the bread on the way home, because it had to feed five people. Poverty meant only a few new dresses as she grew, and shoes were saved to wear only in the winter. But amazingly, Polina said, “In spite of poverty and war, we were very close to each other and that meant my childhood was a good one!”

In 1958, Polina moved to Siberia and after further education became a meteorologist. Hard times continued under the Soviet Government which made all items scarce, including children’s clothing. One time, Polina purchased large woollen socks and unravelled the wool to reknit it into a warm item of clothing for her son.

Although aware of being Jewish, the communist regime in which she grew up meant she learned nothing of Judaism. Here in Israel, though she keeps only a basic observance of traditions, she has learned to turn to Israel's God when things are difficult. And through Homecare’s assistance to family members, Polina has learned about Christian love and care.


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