Poverty in the Jewish community is a growing problem. Statistics show approximately 14% of the Jewish community in the Greater Toronto Area will be living in poverty by 2021. Our goal in addressing this complex issue is not simply to provide a social safety net, but to give people the tools and resources to become self-sufficient in the long-term. It takes more than 100 partner organizations to sustain a compassionate and dynamic Jewish community. UJA strengthens and supports those agencies to ensure they can effect meaningful changes for people who need assistance. People like Marina. Marina has been a client of UJA-supported several social service agencies, as well as a volunteer for some of the same organizations. Her experience illustrates the needs in our community, and the ongoing support we provide. This is her story.
As a child of Holocaust survivors growing up in Ukraine, Marina was sent by her parents to buy matzoh for Passover and hide it in her backpack, away from prying government eyes and antisemitic neighbours. A top student, she was taunted by classmates who shouted, “Hitler didn’t kill enough Jews.” But even with widespread antisemitism in academia, and despite strict quotas on Jews, her marks were so high that the authorities had to accept her into university.
In 1991 Marina, her husband and two children arrived in Toronto after living in Israel for over a decade. An artist proficient in five languages, she began volunteering with Jewish Family & Child (JF&CS) as a tutor in English, Hebrew, and art.
But the move to a new country proved to be a difficult adjustment for her two children, aged 14 and 21, who had been raised in Israel. Her husband’s unexpected death in 1999, at the age of 49, was devastating emotionally and financially for the whole family.
Marina joined a bereavement group operated by JF&CS, and was grateful for the emotional support that helped her navigate this difficult time in her life. She was able to continue working as a part-time teacher, and volunteering as a children’s tutor with JF&CS.
Today, because of her daughter’s health situation, Marina’s most important job is raising her two granddaughters.
With assistance from JF&CS, Marina was able to gain legal custody of her granddaughters; UJA provided financial assistance so the two girls, now aged nine and ten, could attend Jewish day school.
Marina’s background as the child of survivors is critical to her desire to raise her children in a traditional Jewish home. “My parents lost their whole family in the camps, so it is very important to me that the girls go to a Jewish school where they can be openly and proudly Jewish,” Marina explains. “To have my two little girls learn Jewish history and language and Torah study, and about mitzvot and holidays—without the fear or antisemitism I experienced as a child—is so meaningful.”
The family is also very grateful for the one-time loan they received from Jewish Free Loan Toronto, which “helped us feel less stressed at a very stressful time,” as well as from UJA’s Kehilla Rental Assistance Program, which provides both her and her daughter with supplementary assistance to help with paying the rent. “It’s so important for me to know that someone cares about us. It’s not only about the money. The community has been there for us when we need them. To know that we are not alone—that is very encouraging.”
Marina is grateful for the assistance she receives from UJA-supported social services agencies, and is proud to be able to contribute to the wellbeing of others in the community through her volunteer work teaching a weekly three-hour art class as the Bernard Betel Centre.
“I love art and appreciate that I can help others, and that Bernard Betel appreciates what I do. Art is part of the healing process and recovery for people who have been through trauma. Socially, emotionally and professionally, teaching this class is very fulfilling and purposeful.”