Tanya stands alongside her double painting.

By Maxine Carllil 

Photo caption: Tanya stands alongside her double painting. One side depicting her life in Belarus. It is colourless symbolising the drudgery and struggles. The other side depicts the colour and vibrancy that life in Israel has brought her.

A visitor to the hostel for elderly citizens where Tanya lives is treated to a display of her beautiful paintings along the hallways. The subjects and textures by this talented artist are amazingly varied. Tanya lived in the same town in Belarus as the famous Marc Chagall, and her skills allow her to follow different techniques and styles, in particular Chagall’s love and use of bright colours. Inside her small apartment, besides the walls adorned with more paintings, she has a collection of her ceramic sculptures. Truly a gifted artist! 

Her life, however, has not always been so colourful. 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 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 Papa’s homecoming each night when he gave each child a kiss and laid his hands on each head as he said something which Tanya now realises 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 honour his memory, Tanya recently designed a beautiful Passover Haggadah (Passover Seder guide) for children which traces her father’s story. 

Tanya married at 20 years old and it lasted for a very difficult 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. She then became a widow when her husband died from an alcohol-related disease. So, Tanya returned to her hometown with little means of support. 

Tanya eventually made Aliyah to Israel in 1999 with her younger son, then 13. The older son had encouraged her to go to Israel and wanted to come himself, but was made to stay behind in Belarus due to mandatory army service. 

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

Amazingly, the 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 some work, and did his Israeli army service. His work helped Tanya, 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. 

“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. 

Tanya with her paintings in her new home
Tanya with her paintings in her new apartment.

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. 

Life on a small income has still been challenging, and a serious illness brought anxiety and physical debilitation. It was 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 subsidised apartment where she now lives. Most importantly, Homecare has provided encouragement and friendship amid her continuing weakness and necessary medication. 

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

Please support the work of ICEJ Homecare by giving at:  give.icej.org/homecare