Putting Color Back Into Tanya’s Life

By: Maxine Carlill 

When visitors arrive at the hostel for elderly citizens where Tanya lives, they are treated to a display of her beautiful paintings that decorate the hallways. The subjects and textures of this talented artist are amazingly varied. Tanya lived in the same town in Belarus as the famous Marc Chagall, a Russian-French artist, and she has mastered some of his different techniques and styles—in particular, Chagall’s love and use of bright colors. Besides the paintings, her apartment displays a collection of ceramic sculptures she created. Tanya is truly a gifted artist! 

Her life, however, has not always been so colorful. Yet it was during the difficult periods that she learned to pray and see her prayers answered. ICEJ Homecare came into her life during one of those down times, and she says: “I will be always thankful for all the help you have been.”  

Tanya in her new home.

Tanya came from a poor but close-knit family of five. Her father, like his dad before him, was a cobbler who worked day and night to provide for his family. The children had to travel a long way by bus each day to take their father a hot,  home-cooked meal. Despite the antisemitism he suffered, people liked his work and were always lined up at his door, even just to have their shoes cleaned. Tanya found it fascinating to watch him, and at age seven, she began to help clean shoes.  

She still retains a sweet memory of her father’s homecoming each night when he gave each child a kiss and laid his hands on their head as he said something, which Tanya now realizes was probably a Jewish blessing. Although the family did not observe the Jewish holidays like so many other Jews under the Soviet regime, her father was quite open about his Jewishness. To honor his memory, Tanya recently designed a beautiful Passover Haggadah (Passover Seder guide) for children that traces her father’s story.  

Tanya married at 20 years old, and her difficult marriage lasted 17 years. Away from her family and friends and without much money for food for their two sons, Tanya made a vegetable garden and reared rabbits and other small animals. She made warm hats from animal skins for her family for winter. After her husband died from an alcohol-related disease, Tanya returned to her hometown with little means of support.  

She eventually made Aliyah to Israel in 1999 with her younger son, then 13. Her older son had encouraged her to go to Israel and wanted to come himself but had to remain in Belarus due to mandatory army service.  

“I prayed to God a lot,” Tanya says of that time.  

Amazingly, her son received an exemption from the army to take part in a special month-long Israeli program. He quickly applied for Israeli citizenship and received it shortly after. He studied Hebrew, found work, and completed his Israeli army service. His work helped his mother, who was struggling financially, until she could earn a small income as an art teacher.  

 “How does it feel to be in Israel?” we asked Tanya.  

Tanya’s colorless painting depicts the drudgery and struggle of her life in Belarus. The brightly colored one represents the vibrant life Israel has brought her.

Life on a small income has still been challenging, and a serious illness brought anxiety and physical debilitation. During this time, she urgently needed to find new housing and feared she may become homeless. But like others under the watchful eye of ICEJ Homecare, Tanya has not walked alone. In partnership with an Israeli social worker, Homecare assisted her financially and helped her search for the subsidized apartment where she now lives. Most importantly, Homecare has provided encouragement and friendship amid her continuing weakness and necessary medication.  

“This is my home. I visited Belarus twice with my son to look back to our memories, but I did not enjoy being there,” she replied.  

As an artist, Tanya feels right at home in Israel due to the many talented artists here. She also has been especially delighted to learn about Judaism and keep Shabbat and all the Jewish holidays.  

Tanya expressed her gratitude, saying: “I don’t know what I would have done without your support—thanks to all the Christians who care.”

Show love and support for elderly Jews in need of care by donating to support ICEJ Homecare.