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Lilia Svistonov

born 1934 in the Ukraine

My family

I was born on 4 May 1937 in Ukraine to a Jewish family. My grandfather believed in God, prayed and used to go to the synagogue. He baked matzah himself, celebrated Jewish holidays, and kept "kashrut". I remember his special Passover plates. My mother, Anna Rubinskaja, was a Soviet patriot.

When the war against the Nazis began in the summer of 1941, I was four years old and I was living in Poltava with my mother, my father, Alexander, and my six-year-old brother and baby sister. A year later, my father was called up to the front. When Poltava was bombed, we would hide in the basement of the house where the potatoes were stored. Our non-Jewish neighbors recommended that we leave town because we were Jews. I remember us going on a long train ride and when we left the town, sirens were sounding and we heard bombing. We were afraid.

An ambulance took us to the hospital and when they examined him, the doctors understood that there was bleeding in his head.  The doctors did not give him any hope that my son would survive.

God's call

I married and our first child, Alexander (Sasha), was born. After his birth, I had a dream in which I fell into a put with the child and I thought he was dead. I started to cry out to God: "Save my son!" and then someone took my son from my arms and said that he was alive.  This dream frightened me and I was afraid for my son.


When Sasha was about half a year old, I went with my small family during the holiday in November to see Mother. When we were waiting for a bus to return home, a car stopped and offered to take me and my son home. My husband would follow on the bus. After a while, the car had an accident and rolled over and I held the child tightly. As in the dream, I started to cry: "Save my son!" The child was pale and did not move, but someone took the baby from my hands and said: "He' is alive."

I prayed with all of my heart: "If there is a God, save my child!" God heard my prayer.

The escape

Finally, we arrived at Novosibirsk in Siberia and during our period of evacuation we lived in a wooden hut together with my grandparents, Haya and Yankel Rovinsky. My mother worked in the aviation factory as a skilled worker. Later, some other relatives of Mother's also arrived in Novosibirsk.  My father wrote us from the front, but when the blockade of Leningrad was broken in January 1944 he was killed. He was twenty-seven years old and my mother became a widow at the age of twenty-eight; she never married again. When the announcement of his death came, everyone cried and we hoped it was a mistake and we waited for his return, to no avail.

Coming home - to war

Soon after I started school in Novosibirsk, we heard that my home town, Poltava, had been freed and we returned home. Out flat was occupied, so we all, together with my grandparents, went to live with a Messianic Jew named Tama Igumenov. The war was still on and it was very hard to live in Poltava. My mother worked as a skilled office worker in offices and a military store. There was insufficient bread and we were starving. At the age of eight, my weight was twenty kilograms. We were dressed in worn clothes and there were not enough shoes. My mother covered my feet with newspapers. There was no transportation to go to school and I had to walk a long way. There was no heating either at home or at school and water froze in the drinking glass. The ink froze in ink-pots and for lack of exercise books the children wrote on the margin of newspapers. I remember how Mother cooked porridge for my baby sister and we just licked our lips because we were considered too big to eat it. The neighbor or the teacher took us half-orphans sometimes to their home and warmed us and gave us tea to drink and cookies to eat.

Studying with challenges

For four days he was unconscious and we were not allowed to touch him. Then he woke up, but his left side was paralyzed. If everything is just coincidence, how is it possible that I saw everything before it happened? I started to seek the truth I wanted to read books that were forbidden. The more they forbade me, the more I had a thirst for spiritual things. There were plenty of books written against faith that ridiculed the Bible.

"I decided to follow Jesus"

In 1974, our second child, Galina, was two years old and I no longer worked as a teacher but instead worked in the library for half a year. While others were at lunch, the bookkeeper, who was a believer, said to me: "You are a Jew, one of the chosen people. Believe in Jesus and be baptized." I was afraid to go to a congregation because the authorities would automatically take away my diploma and fie me from my work. There were also terrible rumors that the Baptists sacrificed their children. The bookkeeper brought me books to read about faith, but I was afraid to go to church. In another library where I worked, I found the bible and I was fascinated to read about the history of the Jews. Someone invited me to the Orthodox Church and I went there and I sang in the choir for ten years. The more that I read the Bible, the more uncomfortable I felt in the Orthodox Church. I wondered why, if the Bible was the Word of God, they did many things in that church in a different way from what was written. When my mother became ill, I quit going there. After she died, I had more time and I got to know some Baptists who invited me to their Christmas celebration.

When I went to their church, I was so happy at how they spoke, hoe they rayed, and how they received me with love. I felt this was my home.

Before the war was over, my mother succeeded in getting back our flat. I grew up and was accepted for studies in the education institute. One of our study programs was atheism. The teacher told us that faith is like opium to the people and we have to fight against it. They tried to brainwash us to be fighting atheists. Despite this teaching I wanted to see the Bible and know what was written there and to learn the truth. Among the students in our course, there was one couple who believed in God and their child was baptized. When they finished their studies, they did not receive their diploma and permission to teach because of that baptism. I was amazed to see that their five years of study were snatched away from them. I finished my studies and started my work as a Russian and German teacher.

I got my own Bible and I read in Luke 19 how Jesus was crying for Jerusalem. The words touched my heart and I was ashamed of myself and asked forgiveness. I wrote a poem about that and read it in the church. People were fascinated and I was encouraged to start writing poems.

My son Alexander grew up and married, but since the accident his life has been dependent on medicine. After Perestroika, it was difficult to find that medicine in Russia and it was extremely expensive. The mother of my son's friend said that Jews should move to Israel. My son wanted to move to Israel but I was reluctant as I had finally found a good congregation, where in 1994 I was also baptized. I was so happy that my son also started to attend our church.

Portrait of Lilia

Life in Israel

Then God began to speak also to me about Israel and as I had no work, I decided to fill in the papers and I made aliyah with my son in 1997. One year later, his wife and daughter joined us and after two years my daughter Galina came as well. I lived mostly with my children until I moved to one of four external flats of Ebenezer in 2004. We took part in handiwork and holiday celebrations at Ebenezer and we saw how well they cared for the residents. I saved money and received help from others so that, when my physical health deteriorated, I was able to move to Ebenezer in May 2012. I was so happy and felt myself younger and healthier, as if I was in paradise. This is my home and I love it. Where else can you receive such love from the workers and attention, songs, and gifts from the visitors? From here, I will move only to my heavenly home.

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