January 13, 2023

At Szarvas, a Respite from Ukraine’s Conflict and Cold

Mark Sisisky President, JDC

Beginning this week through April, JDC is ensuring 700-800 Jews from various cities in Ukraine will share in the peace of a twelve-day respite from the frigid cold and ongoing conflict as they visit Szarvas, our flagship JDC-Lauder International Jewish Summer Camp in Hungary. This effort – a crucial expansion of our current winter survival initiative – will provide a warm and safe space for Ukrainian Jews who’ve been braving daily and widespread outages of power, heat, and internet. Over six sessions, participants will enjoy the newly renovated and winterized Szarvas facility while engaging in programs to heal body and soul. They will be treated to delicious kosher food and a range of activities, including dance and yoga, movies and music, Jewish educational and cultural activities, and psychological support. They will have weekly Shabbat experiences and excursions to a zoo, arboretum, and cities like Budapest. These efforts will be supported by our wonderful Europe and FSU professionals as well as volunteers from the Hungarian Jewish community. As you see from the photo and this video of the first cohort joyously participating in one of many recreational activities offered, we are making miracles, and restoring a sense of normalcy, every day. We could not be prouder that Szarvas – a transformative incubator of Jewish identity, leadership, and community life for the last 30 years – is now providing a refuge for Ukrainian Jews who’ve faced unimaginable circumstances. We were able to move nimbly to deploy this effort thanks to our longstanding partnership with the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and the many committed JDC leaders and generous philanthropists who invested in the future of Szarvas, supported its renovation, and guided the project. This development is a testament to our organization’s ability to quickly and creatively adapt to changing circumstances. We have the networks and connections to move people desperately in need from Ukraine, across the border to Szarvas, and back again where their JDC care will continue. This unbreakable chain, strengthened by our heroic staff and local community partnerships, has been the hallmark of our life-saving and life-affirming efforts aiding tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews at their darkest moments. JDC is able to do this work today, and for nearly one year, because of the unprecedented outpouring of support throughout this crisis from this Board, as well as the Jewish Federations of North America and local Jewish Federations, the Claims Conference, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, individuals, families, corporations, and foundations. As you welcome Shabbat tonight, we hope you will be inspired by this story and take pride in how we bestow the blessings of care, community, and peace on our fellow Jews when they need it most. It is how we fulfill our timeless responsibility to one another.