SELAH provides comfort and support to immigrants

SELAH volunteers are active at Israeli hospitals to help take care of immigrants in need.It started as a carefree Friday morning in May for the Sorokin family. Vladislav and Olessia, a newly arrived young immigrant couple, their son Sasha, 6, …

SELAH volunteers are active at Israeli hospitals to help take care of immigrants in need.It started as a carefree Friday morning in May for the Sorokin family. Vladislav and Olessia, a newly arrived young immigrant couple, their son Sasha, 6, and Yulia Tartiakova, 19, Olessia’s friend – were out shopping for a birthday present at the Ha’Sharon mall in Netanya, Israel. Suddenly, as they were about to enter the mall, a suicide bomber blew himself up in their midst. That moment of violence ripped apart their lives.

Young Sasha, who had witnessed everything, and his mother Olessia were badly wounded. They were rushed to Hillel Yaffe hospital in Hadera, where they were met by a SELAH emergency team. Olessia’s brother Germann Muravchick, a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces on his way home for weekend leave, called his family’s cellular phone. It was answered by a policeman, who directed Germann to the Abu Kabir forensic institute. There a team of SELAH volunteers was waiting for him. In the hours of pain and confusion that followed, the cruel facts were pieced together – Vladislav and Yulia were dead.

From that moment, SELAH, took care of all the family’s needs. That night, Germann slept at the nearby home of Yonatan, a SELAH volunteer. Volunteers were also by his side at the funerals. They sat next to little Sasha in the hospital, and watched over Olessia in intensive care as she struggled back to consciousness and the bitter realization of her terrible loss. SELAH brought Germann and Olessia’s mother Svetlana to Israel so she could help. SELAH was at the airport to greet her when she arrived. When Sasha needed to leave his bed and go for an X-ray, it was suddenly discovered he had no slippers – a SELAH volunteer ran out and bought them for him. Zvia, another volunteer, took Sasha’s precious lovebirds into her own home, to take care of them until he was able to look after them once again. Over the months, SELAH has provided extensive financial help, legal assistance, and continuous volunteer care.

Sasha survived. His wounds are healing, and in September 2001 he entered the first grade. From the moment he left the hospital and was able to get about on his own, he has come together with other young immigrant children who have suffered similar losses. Through SELAH’s ongoing support system, available to the family for as long as is needed, he, his mother Olessia and uncle Germann – will travel the slow path toward healing.

Since 1993, SELAH has touched the lives of thousands of immigrants in distress and emergency. Emergency can take many forms – bereavement, illness, accidents, family violence, terror. Whatever the tragedy, SELAH seeks the human, practical response. Help includes emotional support and substantive material aid – on both an emergency and longer-term basis, delivered by trained volunteers. Once the stricken immigrant has come through the emergency period, he is welcomed into a variety of peer support gatherings designed to strengthen his resources. Over time, in the company of others who have also survived tragedy, this same shattered immigrant learns to cope, and dares to hope.

Nadia Ganzman and her husband Grigory left behind a comfortable life in Bellorussia for one reason alone – their 18-year-old son Valery’s dream to live in Israel. Arriving in 1993, the Ganzman family settled in Nazeret Ilit, and Valery, an honors student, began courses in mathematical physics at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. In the middle of his studies, he enlisted in the Army – that was the Israeli way, he told his parents – and joined an elite IDF fighting unit, in which he served with distinction. In August 1996, one week before the end of his three-year term, Valery was killed in Lebanon.

Nadia’s world was torn apart. With the death of her adored son, who had been so actively and lovingly involved in every aspect of their new life, she and her husband were left alone in a black hole of grief. They had no other family in Israel to help, no support system; Nadia hadn’t even learned Hebrew yet.

SELAH learned of the Ganzmans’ tragedy and immediately made contact. At first Nadia was not ready to accept any help. In her mind, there was no such thing as help after the loss of her child. “I didn’t even want to live,” Nadia said. A few months later, however, when SELAH executive director Ruth Bar-On came and asked her what she most needed, Nadia suddenly knew. She needed to learn Hebrew so that she could communicate with the Israeli soldiers from Valery’s unit who came to see her and to speak to her about her son.

SELAH provided the bereaved mother with Hebrew lessons, and in a short time Nadia mastered enough of the language to forge close connections with those who had served with Valery. It was around this time that SELAH introduced her to Svetlana Pesachov, whose own son had also fallen during his Army service. This visit was a revelation to Nadia: “It was the first time I met a woman who had suffered the same fate as I, and yet was standing with her feet on the ground, still ready to keep on living. At that moment, I understood that I, too, had to live.”

Nadia soon connected with other bereaved immigrant parents on SELAH healing retreats, and later found the strength to reach out to a woman who had just lost her child. “I spoke to her for an hour and told her some of what had happened to me along the way. I believe these words helped her, just as they had helped me when I heard them from others.”

Today, Nadia is one of SELAH’s most involved volunteers, working with some 20 families. Instinctively, she connects with people who have suffered the devastating loss of a child. Emerging from the deep pain of her own experience, Nadia now cares for bereaved parents, transmitting the message of life and hope in the face of unbearable loss.

Of her connection to the bereaved, Nadia said, “When I cry with others over their children, I am also crying for my own son.”