We have all been watching in horror at the Russian invasion of Ukraine since it began just over a week ago. Each day, each hour brings new horrors to the Ukrainian people including the 200,000+ Ukrainian Jews. We can only imagine the terror of the children, the families, the survivors of the Holocaust. There are potentially thousands of lives at stake, and we are watching it play out on our TVs.
We all feel helpless in the face of the unfolding evil and devastation.
Jewish Federations and our partners have been in Ukraine for decades, both caring for the most vulnerable of our extended Jewish family and rebuilding a vibrant Jewish community where it had been all but decimated by 70 years of Communist rule.
It is the power of our Savannah Jewish Community Annual Campaign that enables this work to take place year after year in cities and towns all across the Former Soviet Union.
But, today, as a result of Russia’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine, home to an estimated 200,000 Jews, the needs are extraordinary.
Life has been completely disrupted across the country with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the fighting, and food and water in short supply in many areas.
Responding to the attacks, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “This is an act of war, an attack on sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, a gross violation of the UN Statute and the fundamental norms and principles of international law.” And Ukraine’s foreign minister tweeted, “Ukraine will defend itself. Ukraine will win.”
At this very moment, Ukraine’s Jewry along with the rest of the country’s population – is in danger of losing their homes, their businesses, and most importantly their lives.
At this very moment, our Federation communities across North America, are urgently needed to exercise the power of our collective giving – the power and the need for kehillah – one of our most fundamental precepts – as Jewish community all of us are responsible for one another.
The majority of the Ukrainian Jewish community lives in the capital, Kyiv, which is currently under assault by columns of Russian forces. Kharkiv, another major center of Jewish life, is taking heavy rocket fire damaging residential neighborhoods, with fear sweeping across the community. Across Ukraine when sirens sound, members of the Jewish community are sheltering in subway stations, basements, or wherever they believe they have the greatest chance of survival. Thousands are trapped in conflict zones in the east. Thousands more have fled the fighting.
But because our Federation partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel, JDC, and World ORT were already on the ground doing critical work day in and day out for Ukraine’s Jewish community – we were able to quickly mobilize.
Our partners at the Jewish Agency set up hotlines overnight to help guide local community members through these chaotic times. Six processing stations on the Ukrainian border with Poland, Moldova, Romania, and Hungary, are already up and running to support the Ukrainian Jews who wish to make Aliyah (immigrate) to Israel. They have successfully moved the first group of olim (immigrants) to Poland in order to ensure a safe aliyah to Israel and are expecting to help thousands more in the coming days. Staff on the ground are working around the clock under difficult and dangerous conditions to meet the ever-changing needs on the ground.
JDC is reporting “spiking humanitarian needs” among the nearly 40,000 poor Jews it supports in 1,000 locations around Ukraine. JDC is delivering critical assistance - getting food and medicine to those in need, activating a local volunteer corps, and leveraging its network of Hesed social service centers to address emerging needs as events unfold. JDC is also preparing to handle mass displacement, deploy psychosocial support, and increased aid to the most vulnerable.
World ORT is involved in the lives of more than 8,000 people including students, teachers, staff, and their families in Ukraine. Due to the crisis ORT schools are currently closed, but ORT continues to support students, teachers, and families, by providing emergency items including food with a long shelf life, water, matches and lighters, batteries and portable chargers, bio-toilets, LED torches, and walkie-talkies, first aid kits, essential medicines, and more.
This work lies at the heart of our Federation mission - it is who we are, it is what we do. And while our Savannah Annual Community Campaign and the support we send overseas ensured our Jewish 911 response team were in place when disaster struck in Ukraine, this is an extraordinary moment that requires us to do more.
Right now, our partners on the ground are quite literally risking their lives. And they need your support.
We urgently need to raise a minimum of $20 million to support and save the lives of our extended Jewish family in Ukraine. These funds will:
- Maintain critical welfare services for tens of thousands of vulnerable Jews across Ukraine;
- Help get food, medicine, warm clothing, and other material support to those sheltering in place and those who have fled the conflict zone;
- Ensure that those who wish to make Aliyah to Israel are able to do so in safety and with all due speed;
- Provide temporary housing for thousands of people in transit and others displaced by the violence;
- Transport people to safety;
- Bolster security and support for the local community and its institutions;
- Secure five Jewish schools and training staff to manage crisis needs
And more as the need continues to grow.
At the end of an Update on Tuesday hosted by UJA NY, JFNA Board Chair Mark Wilf closed the session by challenging each of us to think about had there been a system of support in the 1940s…How many people would have been saved?