From Russia to Israel to the U.S.—this family is honoring the sacrifices of the past

Dec 23, 2022 | Article

From Russia to Israel to the U.S.—this family is honoring the sacrifices of the past

Dec 23, 2022

Just a few steps inside the front door of Boris and Elena Draznin’s home, you will come to a table filled with framed photographs representing generations of family and physicians.

Victor LermanJudith LermanThere are photos of Dr. Victor Lerman and Dr. Judith Lerman, Elena’s parents, who served as young medics in the Russian army during World War II and created careers in medicine that would span three continents.

There are photos of Dr. Boris Draznin and Dr. Elena Draznin, whose medical careers have taken them around the globe—from Russia, to Israel, to Colorado.

And there are photos marking important milestones in the personal and professional lives of the Draznin children, three girls, now women, two of whom are also physicians.

The many photos testify to this family’s commitment to l’dor v’dor. “Respect for the previous generation is a quintessential thread with my parents and Boris’s parents,” says Elena. “That is how we were brought up. My father used to say to his grandchildren, ‘You have to be smarter than your parents because you are standing on the shoulders of the previous generation.’”

Julia and Michelle DrazninBut behind great achievement there is sometimes great sacrifice.

In this family, the sacrifice began in 1974, when Elena’s parents left a well-established life of professional and economic success in Russia to follow their only child and her husband to Israel,

where they would learn a new language and build a new life in the unfamiliar landscape of the Negev desert. It would not be the last time they would have to begin anew.

Now, nearly 50 years later, the Lermans’ willingness to start over, their commitment to family, and their medical service to their community will be honored with a gift that keeps their memory alive at the same time it changes lives in JEWISHcolorado’s partner region in Israel, Ramat HaNegev.

From Russia to Israel to the U.S.

It was October of 1973, the time of the Yom Kippur War. Boris and Elena, then a young couple with a six-year-old child, decided to take advantage of the temporary and very short-lived  Russian policy lifting the ban on Jewish refusenik emigration. They left their homeland and resettled in Tel Aviv. Boris continued his professional work in endocrinology and Elena, who had been a neurologist in Russia, retrained in pediatrics.

“What motivated us at the time was antisemitism,” Elena remembers. “For Jewish expression and personal liberty, the future in Russia was not certain. Just because we were Jews, we were canceled. We feared for our children—the next generation—even more.”

Drs. Judith and Victor LermanAbout eight months later, Elena’s parents followed. Already in their early 50s, they left a comfortable life in Minsk where both were successful medical academics with publications in internationally recognized medical journals. Victor was a professor of neurosurgery and Judith was a professor of infectious disease and pediatrics. In Israel, they began their new lives in an Absorption Center, learning the language of their adopted country.

They also had to start over as professionals, Victor at the Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva and Judith as a roving pediatrician in the Negev, serving the remote desert communities of Yeruham and Dimona. Particularly for Judith, who had traded an elite academic environment in a big city for long commutes to see patients in a desert, it was as if decades of professional achievements had been suddenly erased, forcing her to start over.

“For us, this move was a big leap,” Elena says. “But for my parents, it was exceedingly traumatic. They wanted to do it because we were in Israel. They wanted to be close to their grandchild, but they also wanted a professional life. Their immigration was for the future—for us.”

Even after the move to Israel, the Lerman and Draznin diaspora had not ended. To continue advancing in academic medicine in Israel, Boris would need training in the United States. In 1977, he took a position with the University of Colorado Medical School, starting as a trainee and then as a junior faculty member in 1980. Initially, Elena, who did not speak English, was not that eager to move to the U.S., but within a matter of months she followed her husband, and again, she began medical retraining, this time in rehabilitation medicine.

For a second time, Elena’s parents followed their daughter and her husband, this time to the United States where they eventually settled in Denver. There, they could watch Elena open the first Rehabilitation Medicine Unit at Swedish Medical Center which she directed and where she trained young physicians in Rehabilitative Medicine until the time of her retirement. They watched Boris rise through the ranks of academic medicine at CU School of Medicine where, as an MD and PhD, he now holds an endowed professorship and is Director of the Adult Diabetes Program. By keeping the family together, Boris says, Victor and Judith “served as a role model for our children.”

“It was a lot of sacrifice for them,” Boris adds. “But they very much understood how their grandchildren would have a better life here.”

Today, Drs. Victor and Judith Lerman are buried next to each other in Fairmount Cemetery. But their commitment to family and to medicine now will live on in the Negev, thanks to the generosity and thoughtfulness of Elena and Boris.

A gift to keep memory alive in Israel

Whenever Elena and Boris travel to Israel, they return to the Negev. Of course, they are familiar with the area because of their family history, but JEWISHcolorado drew their attention to Ramat HaNegev, and the people there earned their admiration.

“In the Negev, there is real potential for development,” Boris says. “The people strike us like pioneers with their spirit.”

“My feeling is that these young people moving there are making a sacrifice to become creators of history,” Elena adds.

“We said to ourselves, ‘How can we personally contribute to that development?” Boris continues. “What can we do?”

On one of their trips, Elena and Boris visited a medical facility in Ramat HaNegev, and there, they found the answer to that question. They would make a generous gift that could be used to fulfill any need the clinic had. Ramat HaNegev medical professionals decided to use the gift to fund an ultrasound machine serving patients of all ages. For residents, who now must drive long distances for an ultrasound which could be life-threatening in an emergency, this gift is a blessing.

“Dear Elena and Boris have contributed significantly to our community,” says Eran Doron, Mayor of Ramat HaNegev. “The donated ultrasound device will allow our medical teams to provide the highest quality medical service to the council’s residents and visitors on normal days and in emergencies. We are so grateful for this opportunity to maintain and improve the health of our residents.”

Elena and Boris had only one request when they made their gift. That asked the clinic to rename a pediatric care center the Drs. Judith and Victor Lerman Mother & Child Health Clinic.”

“It was important for my parents to respect and continue the legacy of their own parents,” Elena says. “L’dor v’dor, that is right. Now, I think we have found a way to honor them that would be very gratifying to them. My parents liked helping others. That is what medicine is about. They also wanted to be on the forefront of medical developments, coming up with novel treatments. This is a way to keep their memory alive that also contributes to the improvement of medical care. It gives me peace.”