A Transformative Journey from Victim to Advocate

For Irina, an immigrant from Russia, life felt crushingly difficult. She was sole caretaker to her seven children, the youngest of whom suffers from autism and partial blindness. Irina had quit her job as a cosmetician because pain from a childhood hip dislocation made standing all day impossible. But then a judge sentenced her to 132 hours of community service after finding her culpable in a car accident. From that moment nothing, and everything, changed.

Today Irina feels that none of her problems are too large to solve. Her newfound optimism comes after a year of volunteering at YEDID, a citizen empowerment organization. What began as a mandatory sentence has transitioned into a vision for a productive life of service.

“People arrive at YEDID with huge concerns. They leave here with results, and I leave here happy because I feel I have helped them. Coming here makes my day. It makes my life.”

Irina image

When Irina describes her life, she exudes joy and positivity. Her face, with its flawless complexion and bright rosy cheeks, shows no signs of the hardships and trials she still endures. Her green eyes are beautiful, groomed with perfect but subtle makeup. When she smiles, her cheeks dimple and her chiseled cheekbones become more pronounced.

Irina arrived in Israel at the age of 17 from Russia. She began a nursing diploma, which she dropped out of when she started having children. But then she found work as a medical secretary, working steadily at Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital for ten years until 2006. That was the year her youngest child was born prematurely at 24 weeks. She left her job to stay home and take care of the children. Life became extremely difficult.

After a year she found employment through Manpower working as an auxiliary nurse taking care of babies at Hadassah Hospital. She worked nights—her eldest daughter, who was just 11, would stay home with the baby, who was one at the time. After a year she was terminated from her job—a customary practice to avoid severance pay. She did not know at the time that she was entitled to severance pay after nine months of employment. She also did not know that she could get help from Bituach Leumi for her youngest daughter on account of her disabilities. Again, she started looking for work.

“I was extremely depressed,” says Irina. “All the children felt my pressure. I was always angry with the children. They were angry with me. They shouted at each other. Things were not good. There was a lot of conflict.”

In the meantime Irina had received training as a cosmetician. She found work as a cosmetician at SuperPharm. After just six months she started suffering from immense leg pains. Standing on her feet all day proved too difficult and she had to quit her job. Her condition was diagnosed as the return of a hip dislocation she had suffered as a child. Her doctor told her she should apply to Bituach Leumi to receive income payments. She was granted 30 percent disability payments. When her doctor told her she should be getting more than 30 percent, she went back to the allocation committee and was granted 65 percent income compensation and 61 percent medical compensation, which she still receives.

Irina takes very strong pain narcotics to ease her hip pain. The medications cost 250 NIS for just five days. The most she can walk is 50 meters to the car. She can’t walk up stairs. But she has learned to make accommodations, and she does not complain. “I wear flat shoes. I live with it,” she says.

Once or twice a week Irina comes to the YEDID center in Jerusalem—as often as she can. “I haven’t really succeeded in helping myself, she says. “But I help others.” She helps clients tackle issues such as homelessness, debt relief, disability payments, income support and Social Security.

“It’s like a blessing,” says Irina. “It gives me so much.”

She is proud, but not boastful, of her success helping a woman with severe diabetes receive disability benefits. The diabetes has caused neurological issues. “She didn’t believe, but I pressured her to apply. And now she gets the help she needs.”

Irina does not consider herself a religious person. But she believes in in God and she prays. “Every person has his fate,” she says. “Coming here has made me younger, more confident. It’s like I got born again.

“Before I came here, I had no energy. I felt like a pensioner. The accident was a way to get me out of my situation, my depression.”

Irina’s turnaround has impacted her whole family. “The kids are so happy. They are proud of me,” she says. “I lifted myself. It lifted them too. They see and feel the difference. I am not saying there are no difficulties. But my cup is half full. I think there is a solution to everything.”

Her conviction is so strong that you believe her when she asserts: “I will stand on my own two feet. God will guide me to the right path—if not this one then another.”

For the future, Irina has a plan. In the fall she will start studying in a joint Social Work/Legal degree. She hopes, more like resolves, that this will lead her to permanent employment at YEDID, the organization that turned her from victim to advocate.

About the Author
Sharon Cohen is a recent immigrant from South Africa who has returned to Israel after spending the last 25 years in the United States. She has a Masters degree in Journalism and a successful career in the toy industry. Along with other volunteer activities, she works at Yedid, a citizen empowerment organization with 15 centers throughout the country.
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