The Kremlin is shrouded in pollution in August.
When Moscow resident Elena Fleishman, 22, heard that Hillel was organizing students to help senior citizens cope with Moscow's deadly heat and air pollution this summer, she volunteered immediately.
"During this ecological catastrophe many seniors could no longer come to the Jewish community's 'Chesed' centers for help because they were afraid to step outside," she explains. "I got a list of 150 people and my task was to call the seniors and make sure they were okay and to see if they needed anything so that our volunteers could help them."
"Helping others is always a pleasure and it makes me happy," adds Fleishman.
Fleishman was one of dozens of young people who responded to Hillel's call for volunteers for a program sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). As foreign diplomats and others fled Moscow, Hillel staff and students jumped into the JDC initiative.
Moscow JDC Director Alik Nadan commended Moscow Hillel's Olga Golovanova for her professionalism and dedication in coordinating the work of the volunteer service. For two weeks Golovanova recruited students for JDC volunteer opportunities through social networking sites, e-mails and phone calls. She set up a call center in Moscow Hillel where students reached out to seniors. Other students spread out across the city, delivering groceries to seniors, cleaning their homes, or simply providing moral support in a time of need.
Maria Kapchinskaya responded to Hillel's invitation. "When I got a newsletter from Hillel I contacted the call center right away and offered my help: I thought that if I feel so bad in this kind of pollution, how must the elderly feel? I couldn't stand by."
Kapchinskaya helped an 82-year-old woman clean her apartment. "She recently lost her husband and still hasn't quite recovered and now she has to deal with this kind of weather," says Kapchinskaya, who plans to continue helping the woman clean her apartment each month.
Cleaning was also on the agenda for Sonya Duhovnaya, 19. "I was sent to an elderly woman to clean windows in her apartment," she recalls. "She lives on the 18th floor and was worried that I might fall out of the window so I had to be very careful."
Why did she risk her life to volunteer? "I like people of different generations and enjoy listening to the seniors' stories," Duhovnaya explains.