JAFI, the JDC, and World ORT’s lifesaving efforts on the ground in Eastern Europe need your urgent support
By Dara Kaufman / Executive Director, Jewish Federation of the Berkshires
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a devastating humanitarian crisis that continues to unfold as I write this column in early March. I have heard heartbreaking stories from local community members and friends in Israel who have family members caught in the middle of this horrible and gut-wrenching situation.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that there are currently more than 500,000 Ukrainian refugees. Those who can are desperately fleeing west and looking for ways to escape the fighting and destruction of this war.
In partnership with and with support from Jewish communities across North America, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), and WORLD ORT are continually assessing and responding to the critical needs of Jewish communities throughout the war zone. See the inset ????? for more about our partners’ vital work.
Over the past weeks, I have participated in briefings from the people doing this work on the ground. These briefings are deeply meaningful and terribly disturbing – but the leaders, the staff, and the volunteers of our partner organizations are uniformly inspiring. They are brave and compassionate and work around the clock to ensure that no one is left behind, literally and figuratively. These folks are, in every sense of the word, lifesavers. And so are you.
Our partners have responded swiftly and effectively because Federation efforts have supported their essential services for Ukrainian Jews for decades. Ukraine’s estimated 200,000 Jews rely on the strong presence built up through years of Federation support, including an annual grant from our annual campaign. This strong presence now serves as a critical lifeline to protect and safeguard Ukraine’s Jewish community.
Our partners’ current needs include:
- Helping those wishing to leave through aliyah (650 new olim to date and hundreds more in process).
- Maintaining critical welfare services, food, medicine, and supplies for the most fragile individuals, including the thousands of Holocaust survivors whom we have supported day-in and day-out. 40,000 individuals to date.
- Assisting internally-displaced people in multiple locations with transportation to more secure areas.
- Stockpiling critical supplies and goods for assistance at locations across the country. 1,000 locations to date.
- Maintaining emergency hotlines to help those who need immediate support and aliyah support. More than 23,000 calls to date.
- Securing temporary housing for people in transit fleeing conflict zones and providing beds, food, medical and transitional assistance. 4,130 beds secured and support for more than 7,000 individuals to date.
- Purchasing satellite phones to maintain communications across the region.
- Safeguarding five Jewish schools across Ukraine, providing crisis training to staff, and providing welfare assistance to staff, students, and their families.
These profound needs require an extraordinary immediate response that goes above and beyond the funding we provide each year through our annual allocations. I am proud to share that our Berkshire Jewish community has already raised over $100,000 towards this effort. Thank you to everyone who has opened their hearts! The Jewish community in Ukraine needs our help. Please visit www.jewishfederations.org/crisis-in-ukraine2022 to make a gift today.
We pray for safety for all and a speedy end to the hostilities. Thank you for your continued support of the Jewish community. I wish you and your loved ones a chag Pesach sameach!
Dara Kaufman is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.
REPORTS FROM FEDERATION PARTNERS ON THE GROUND
The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI)
JAFI has set up two emergency call centers operating 24/7 in Ukraine and Israel. In Ukraine, the hotline helps process applications for aliyah and directs callers to various assistance centers.
JAFI purchased and distributed satellite phones to Jewish leaders in numerous communities to stay in touch with JAFI and the outside world. With the massive traffic of civilians fleeing west, JAFI opened six aliyah processing stations at Ukrainian border crossings with four countries: Poland, Moldova, Romania, and Hungary. They have also established two facilities to accommodate hundreds of people who need emergency housing for this transitional period. These facilities are equipped with food, emergency equipment, and other required necessities until the olim depart for Israel.
There are currently over 1,500 young people from Ukraine participating in JAFI programs in Israel and whose families back home are under fire. JAFI is in close contact and providing support to these young adults.
JAFI is also engaged in assisting with the physical security of communities and community institutions and is accelerating the implementation of a program to protect Jewish facilities throughout Ukraine through JAFI’s Security Assistance Fund. In addition, JAFI has distributed emergency security grants to 100 Jewish community organizations across the country.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)
Jewish Federations’ partner JDC reports “spiking humanitarian needs” among the nearly 40,000 poor Jews it supports in 1,000 locations around Ukraine. JDC is already providing extra essentials like food and medicine and has activated its emergency hotlines, volunteer corps, and Hesed social service centers network to address emerging needs as events unfold.
JDC has launched a centralized hotline for its Hesed social service centers. They have activated their volunteer corps who call all homebound elderly to check in on them, determine if their designated JDC home care worker can reach them, attend to their needs, and see if there is anything further that they require.
In cities where the situation is harsher, JDC has prioritized the most difficult cases, and some designated home care workers are sleeping at clients’ homes. JDC has also prepared accommodation in Western Ukraine, Moldova, and Eastern European countries for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Similarly, JDC has arranged for IDPs to stay overnight at various Hesed centers as they try to reach the borders. Finally, JDC is providing extra food and medicine for clients to have at home if the situation in Ukraine becomes worse.
In the months leading up to the current crisis, JDC was already addressing severe economic needs among Ukraine’s poorest Jews in the face of rising food, medicine, and utility prices.
World ORT is involved in the lives of more than 8,000 students, teachers, staff, and their families in Ukraine. At present, all ORT schools in Ukraine are closed. As a result of the crisis, the organization has reinforced safety measures at all ORT schools. In addition, they are supporting students, teachers, and families by providing emergency items, including non-perishable foods, water, batteries, portable chargers, bio-toilets, walkie-talkies, first aid kits, and other essential medicines.
New security measures are being put in place to provide physical security at schools, including increased armed guards, increased transportation (buses) to and from school when in-person learning resumes (as well as emergency transportation plans should the need arise), and first aid training for school staff and mental health counseling for the students and teachers.