Reflections from Syktyvkar, Russia

As I'm in the midst of traveling to Moscow for my next adventure, I'm leaving the coldest city I will ever visit (or so I hope)! With that said, I'd like to reflect upon my most recent visit to Syktyvkar, a city two hours northeast of St. Petersburg by plane, where the temperature dropped to a staggering low of -33.5°C!

My heart started racing as I was about to disembark the plane in Syktyvkar. I had no idea what to expect since -12°C in St. Petersburg is cold enough! My first and every breath once I left the plane felt like I was inhaling micro icicles - its difficult to describe but hopefully you get the picture -- it was FREEZING. Literally.

Upon my arrival with Lisa Dorfman, a JDC employee (and my Russian savior/translator), we drove to a wonderful lady's home two hours away by car. Raisa, an 87 year old Nazi victim who receives welfare from JDC, cooked a feast for us! Lamb stew, mushroom salad, hand picked berries from her garden, and a bunch of Russian style breads! It was by far my best meal in Russia to date.

Raisa receives JDC's welfare assistance by means of food packages and visits from a social worker who provide her support every week for about 10 hours. This is a picture of the food package which contains coffee, oil, sugar, flour, honey, Jewish magazines, and a few more items.

On the ride back to town, I fell asleep in the car and thought I'd wake up at the hotel. Little did I know I was supposed to give a presentation to the medical community and Jewish leaders of Syktyvkar!

I ended up spending two hours with this group, discussing all sorts of topics such as the medical condition in Syktyvkar, my experiences in Ethiopia, and the needs of the local community at large. This lead to a discussion with an oncologist who expressed his interest in building a hospice in the city due to the high prevalence of cancer amongst the residents.

Additionally, since 30% of the Hesed welfare clients have cancer it would be a huge benefit to the Jewish population. After hearing about my dream of building a hospital in Ethiopia, he stressed the importance of us maintaining a professional relationship in order to reach both of our goals.

Today we made two home visits, one to an Abram, who is originally from the Ukraine and is also a Nazi victim. A miner his entire life, he proudly showed off the multitude of medals he’d earned throughout his career. Our second visit was to a bed-ridden 78 year old man named Israel who goes by Anatoli. He was one of the founders in the regions’ television channel and was a prominent journalist. After spending some time with these welfare recipients my realization of why I chose to visit Russia became clear to me.

So far this journey has certainly carried me to the far corners of the earth. To places I may never have visited or even thought to visit! It is such a privilege to be involved at a time when very few holocaust survivors still live to tell their tales. To meet them not only in Israel (the land they dreamed of), but alive and being cared for by our Jewish communities worldwide.

It's absolutely incredible how wherever there is a Jew in need, the JDC is truly there. I've been hearing that for the past two years but during these past 24 hours I've witnessed it with my own two eyes.

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