Feature Stories

At End of Hard Road, Jewish Caring Brings Hope

Lela, 22, suffers from partial paralysis and together with her mother and grandfather must rely on the local Hesed welfare center for a myriad of basic needs. But none of this dims her smile.
Lela, 22, suffers from partial paralysis and together with her mother and grandfather must rely on the local Hesed welfare center for a myriad of basic needs. But none of this dims her smile.

At the end of a long dirt road departing from Gori, a small war-ravaged town in Georgia’s countryside, Lela, 22, awaits her visitors excitedly. She has put on her nice blouse, only necklace, and brightest smile. For this young woman who suffers from partial paralysis and spends the majority of her days in her crumbling home, this visit is the highlight of her week.

Lela was born and raised in the three-room house she shares with her single mom Mzia and grandfather Vasil. Together they work the small plot of land by their home, raising chickens and growing fruit, nuts, and beans—their primary means of subsistence.

Diagnosed as a child with thrombosis, Lela began losing sensation in her right side when she was ten years old and today half of her body is completely paralyzed. She also suffers from epilepsy and a variety of hormone-related complications.

The family survives on an unimaginably small income. Mzia lovingly cares for her ailing daughter and is unable to work; she does not receive unemployment compensation because there are no such social services in Georgia. Lela’s disability supplement and her grandfather’s pension add up to just $100 a month.

But somehow none of this dims Lela’s smile.

Today they are being paid a visit by the caseworker from their local Hesed welfare center who is bringing a package of oil, macaroni, rice, and some vegetables—likely the only food they will have from beyond their doorstep this month.

Ninety percent of the clients of the Hesed welfare center in Gori do not work and are completely reliant on JDC services such as food packages, meals-on-wheels, and material assistance with medicine, winter heating bills, and house repairs. The economic situation throughout the region is dire; there is little commerce and even fewer jobs for people like Mzia. The Hesed is literally their only hope to put food on their table and keep their lights on.

For Lela, Hesed has been a home since she was a little girl. The center houses community events for Jewish holidays and a variety of enrichment activities, including camp, Hebrew lessons, and classes in computers, which Lela particularly enjoyed last year.

Mzia greets the visitor with a bowl of sweet grapes from their garden; even a family who has nothing upholds Georgia’s long-standing tradition of warmth and hospitality. 

The visitor asks about Lela’s health right away and Mzia gets visibly anxious as she broaches the topic of Lela upcoming doctor’s appointment at the epilepsy center. The family’s biggest expenses are Lela’s prescriptions and medical care. Now she needs a head scan that will cost the family half a year’s income.

“She used to have seizures several times each month,” Mzia explains, “but the medicines have been working so well she hasn’t had any in a bit. Still, the medications are very expensive and I worry about what she will be prescribed next. I worry about where she will need to go for the next treatment and how we will pay for it.”

Lela tells the case worker she visited Israel for her condition several years ago and was told she was inoperable. “I loved it there. I saw Jerusalem, I went to the Wailing Wall. It was incredible,” she recalls, smiling. “But I can’t make aliyah without my mom, and she needs to take care of my grandfather who is very frail.”

For now, the Hesed’s support is this family’s only hope. Lela and her mom garner strength from the Jewish community and the knowledge that in a few weeks’ time the Hesed case worker will return with another food package and more words of comfort.     

Tags for this story: Disabilities

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