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The Past and Present Connect

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One sunny Jerusalem Day in the small but cheerful apartment of a couple who receive weekly Homecare assistance, a link to the horrors of her past emerged.

A former colleague of mine who was in Israel at the time, met me at the apartment, a short distance from where she was living as I had something to give her and my schedule that day was a busy one. “Come and meet Lena,” I urged, “she comes from Kiev, and you have recently visited that city.”

As I translated the pleasant conversation about places in Kiev, It turned out that my friend had visited the synagogue in the area where Lena and Yoram had lived which delighted Lena. ‘But of course you wouldn’t have visited Babi Yar,” She said confidently if sadly. “I did” my friend said, “and, I have no words for it!" She turned to me and quietly asked how was it that if Lena and her family were in Kiev, she had survived that place of horror, where, on the outskirts of Kiev, for three days over 33,000 Jews were systematically shot and thrown into that infamous ravine. So together we listened to Lena’s story. Before she was born her mother had fled with her two small sisters, 3 and 2 year old, and hid in the forest. Someone was able to secure papers for them to enable travel to Moscow to wait out the war and father’s return from the Front. Back in Kiev, their house was burned to the ground by the Nazi invaders, so that starting all over again meant a life of hardship and poverty and it was into this life that Lena was born. Lena’s future husband also escaped Babi Yar when as a 4 year old his mother fled Kiev with him. For both families, few relatives remained.

After a few silent minutes Lena stood and retrieved an old album from a cupboard. She showed my friends some family pictures. The pages turned to a pretty young woman and an adorable toddler. They were identified as Aunt Klara and niece Tamaritska. In answer to a question about them, the calm answer from Lena hit us. Babi Yar! Lives that were broken off like branches from a tree, falling on the ground leaving a wound. For my friend, the enormity of standing at the Babi Yar memorial and trying to comprehend 33,000 murdered Jews, suddenly came down to a black and white picture. The beautiful, young, nicely dressed mother, stripped naked and standing in terror while shots rang out without stop, the smiling innocent face of the child before us staring up from the gruesome pile of bodies.

Most of the elderly from the former Soviet Union to whom Homecare goes each week, have in their past, traumatic memories. Murdered relatives, flight, persecution. Homecare is privileged to be in their present, care for their aging bodies, enjoy a chat and laugh together, and sometimes have a glimpse of the hidden pain of the past.

 

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