Alan Silverstein

Day-To-Day Miracles: Saving the Descendants of Holocaust Survivors in the Ukraine

During the past year, Ukraine has experienced a turbulent period of time. Constant fighting has taken place in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, pitting pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine forces against one another.

This year also marks the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Jewish survivors from Auschwitz. Alarmingly, the great grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who remained in the Ukraine live in peril, are caught in the midst of this chaos. Many are beset by wide-spread poverty, homelessness, crime, illiteracy and family dislocation.

Miraculously, more than 900 Jewish orphans and “social orphans” [no family member is capable of caring for them] are rescued annually by Tikvah Children’s Home in Odessa. Tikva attends to the individualized needs of at-risk youngsters ranging from new-born to age 21. To do so, Tikva offers nutrition, housing [as needed], medical care, psychological counseling, vocational training, university education, Judaic knowledge and Hebrew language skills [in the event that young adults “make Aliya” to Israel]..

An example of one of Tikva’s alumni is Nastya [for privacy, names have been changed].

Nastya and her 4 brothers and sisters were rescued from the streets of Odessa’s slums. Nastya entered Tikva Children’s Home at age 12, with broken arms and one broken leg. She and her siblings were malnourished, abused and lived without heat. They had nowhere to turn.

Upon arriving at Tikva, Nastya and the 4 other children were greeted with open arms. Through love, shelter, healthy food, Jewish education, this otherwise lost family was saved and given an opportunity to flourish. Nastya proceeded to complete Tikva’s High School program and  to attend Tikva’s University. At the university, she met Alex [one of the “day students” who attend Tikva schools while living with an impoverished relative].  Nastya and Alex dated and fell in love. After completing college they married and now have a child.

Tikva’s ultimate goal is to raise children to be independent, self-sufficient, with a strong Jewish identity. and to be able to give back to the community. Nastya works as a teacher and Alex is successful in computer science. As a gesture of gratitude for having saved their lives. Alex and Nastya give a tenth of their combined salary to Tikva on an annual basis.

Serving a million meals each year and providing comprehensively for hundreds of precious Jewish boys and girls like Alex and Nastya is been costly. The Tikvah annual budget of $9 million is being challenged further by the impact of  Russian vs Ukrainian violence. The prices of fuel for heating, food, and basic essentials have ski-rocketed. Tikva also has been forced to increase security and to remain in constant contact with local police. Tikva can no longer leave the children unattended from dusk to dawn. Tikva must een pay for extra care when taking groups to public places.

Violence, too, has spread to Odessa. Weekly bombings (normally at night) as well as periodic acts of terror have destabilized everyday living, For example, one former Tikva student, Yana Shishman, was killed over a rent dispute that escalated out-of-control amid the current tensions. Fearful that full-scale war will occur, the Tikva community also leaves with the fear of its youth being drafted into Ukraine’s armed forces. Courageously Tikva has given shelter to 87 Jewish refugees from the East families, including 10 babies. These folks arrive homeless and stripped of basic necessities.

Given the country’s instable future, Tikva is assisting young adults who wish to make Aliyah in every possible way. Tikva works with the Jewish Agency to ensure a safe and calm transition to Israel. This effort includes a Tikva Absorption office in Jerusalem. During this stressful period of time, as Tikva does everything possible to protect the children and adults under its care, the community is continually praying for peace. Saving the descendants of the Ukraine’s Holocaust survivors is a most suitable manner for marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Nazi genocide.

Rebecca Silverstein
Development Director
Tikvah Children’s Home – Odessa


About the Author
Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD, was religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ, for more than four decades, retiring in 2021. He served as president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis (1993-95); as president of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues (2000-05); and as chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel (2010-14). He currently serves as president of Mercaz Olami, representing the world Masorti/Conservative movement. He is the author of “It All Begins with a Date: Jewish Concerns about Interdating,” “Preserving Jewishness in Your Family: After Intermarriage Has Occurred,” and “Alternatives to Assimilation: The Response of Reform Judaism to American Culture, 1840-1930.”
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