For Twenty Years I've Been Telling a Story About Her, But Today I Met Her

For the past twenty years, one of my favorite artifacts in my office has been a sample JDC food package. On the side of the relatively small box is a list of the dry goods, flour, salt, and so on, that were delivered by the JDC on a monthly basis to Hesed clients in the Former Soviet Union.

And for those twenty years, I've told the stories of what for me were nameless and faceless senior adults, living in third or fourth or fifth floor walk-ups, homebound and relying on the JDC - and on our financial support - for their daily sustenance.

Over those twenty years, the JDC's system has changed. They no longer provide food packages but instead debit cards for food and medicine. And, over those twenty years, having never been to the Former Soviet Union myself, all I had to associate with that story was that box - now a relic of the JDC Hesed program.

That changed for me late this morning when I climbed the stairs to enter Irina's apartment.

Age 56, Irina, who was born in Kiev, suffers from a variety of severe ailments that leave her homebound, spending much of her life on her sofa, her beautiful cat, William (named after William Shakespeare) by her side. Her husband, a notable actor, passed away suddenly and tragically in 1997.

But while Irina is incredibly limited physically, her mind and her spirit shine with the light of countless stars. A journalist, she continues to write, and she showed me a recent publication of one of her articles in a beautiful magazine. She connects to the world through the internet, and by this afternoon she had already become my Facebook friend. And she remains passionate about the arts.

With the assistance of our wonderful translator, Diana, Irina told me that she has a song that speaks to her that she listens to everyday and shares with her friends. She said she wanted to play it for me, and she pulled it up on youtube on her television. Expecting to hear a classic Ukrainian song, I smiled when she played Dance Me to the End of Love by Leonard Cohen, singing along as it played.

What became quickly clear is the extent to which her radiant spirit is built on the foundation of JDC's support. Her home aid helps her get food and medicine, prepare meals, and clean. She explained that her monthly pension barely covers the cost of a box of one of her many medicines, and she requires two boxes of that medicine every month. JDC's support sustains her life and gives her a life, and she is incredibly thankful.

Irina was gracious enough to let me video a portion of our conversation.

For twenty years I have been telling the story of a nameless, faceless person. That name is now Irina, and that smile could not possibly be more beautiful and grateful.

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