I introduce in this post my Shul Chairman Mike Topper who was one of the group who visited the Tikva Childrens Home in Odessa. (Please read the post from February 14th)
Last night at our Adult Education Programme attended by over sixty people, he shared with us some of the harrowing experiences of the visit.
We were all stunned into silence…
To find out more about Tikva Children’s Home please visit:
There are no poor Jews in the World are there? A disturbing statistic is that that everyone we are likely to meet in the Western World are amongst the World’s top 6% wealthiest people. Yes even the beggars that come over from Israel to regale us at services with their sad stories. Certainly we do not expect to see any of our brethren in the bottom 94% - or do we? Well I can tell you I have now met one of the 94% and she is Jewish. One of our party somewhat facetiously asked me if she had a mezuzah on her door. Door – she hardly had a door.
The coach took our party to about ¼ mile from her hovel. We had to negotiate a dirt track in the dark – led by a few waving torches, skipping from dirt to snow, snow through mud and Lord knows what else, back to snow that gave an eerie glow to our nocturnal adventure. This was made even more distressing by the constant barking of a plethora of dogs locked up (we were reliably informed) behind the wire fences either side of us.
When we had negotiated the track we turned off to the right down an even narrower and more congested path to what had been a wooden gate. Today it was falling off its hinges, unfitting and most probably riddled with wet rot and heaven knows what. We pushed this open, the creak of its rusting hinges alleviating the howl from the guardian canines.
Inside – a garden – or a junk yard – with plenty of empty bottles and piles of other unrecognizable junk covered in snow – ahead a washing line the clothes hanging limply in the freezing atmosphere – to a ramshackle shack – a mixture of untreated breezeblock, wood, plastic, corrugated metal roof and another rotting front door.
Inside the door a dark, heavy hanging blanket kept the biting cold from the shelter.
No running water; no electricity; no drainage or sewerage – an outside toilet shack, a rusting table that was the kitchen area.
Inside two beds, some rough storage shelves with a collection of crockery, plenty of empty bottles, some of which may have once held fruit drinks, rough curtains over the one window – this was home to our hostess, 16 year old son and elder daughter. The daughter, we had been told, had been raped by her Uncle at the age of 16. She had temporarily left home but was now back with her mother and brother. Her mind permanently scarred by the experiences of her youth. This was her life.
The lady of the house was pleased to show us this and her other room – similarly furnished.
She had made an effort to put some paintings on the walls, some decorations hung from the ceiling and there were even pictures of her children and a man – the man in her life – who knows?
She was delighted that we had chosen her home to visit.
Almost backing on to the hovel was a detached house resplendent with double glazed windows, satellite dish and illuminated rooms – large garden, Ukrainian luxury we were told. How incongruous, how sad and how utterly depressing.
David Harris told me the other day that this was a ‘posh’ hovel; we have thousands of our brethren living like this in the Ukraine. We cannot even begin to estimate the numbers.
I asked our guides how we can begin to tackle this poverty – there is no answer. Many of the children run away from such homes. They find themselves in State run orphanages; these are of such ilk that yet again the children run away and prefer to live rough on the streets, yes - even in temperatures approaching -20 degrees C in winter, rather than live with the poverty, deprivation and brutality of their surroundings. About 80% of the boys turn to organised crime; for the girls there is nothing but prostitution. The Ukraine is a man’s world – if you are lucky to have escaped the poverty of the masses. Tikva offer the children salvation and hope - Tikva. They constantly look for Jewish Children to save from a life decreed them by the State and by being born in the wrong country, to the wrong parents at the wrong time. They need our gratitude; they need our blessings and they need our help.
There are no poor Jews in the World - are there?