February 3, 2023

Providing Support, Day in and Day Out

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

My colleague Inna, who lives in Odessa, poured out a container of what looked like orange juice as she spoke.

We were sitting in a warm room in downtown Chisinau (Kishinev), Moldova, a few days ago. I had come to see the programs that we’d help set up since February 24 – and to see how we’re getting ready for what looks like yet another round of fighting in the weeks ahead. The Ukraine Relief Fund is only as effective as the infrastructure funds we raise through the United Jewish Appeal, the Annual Campaign of the Jewish Federation, which allow us to maintain the ongoing support for all those in need day in and day out. If a heavy influx of NATO tanks and ammunition will arrive in the coming months, it’s entirely feasible that a Russian spring offensive could be launched sooner. That would mean more casualties, more refugees, and more suffering. So we have to be ready.

The tiny country of Moldova, maybe 2.5 million people, took in over 700,000 refugees (by the way, the tiny Jewish community there of 12,000 helped take care of 17,000 Ukrainian Jews too). But it wasn’t orange juice that Inna held. It was regular tap water from a kitchen in Mikolayiv, a strategic city two hours east of Odessa, and almost completely destroyed by Russian bombing and shelling and attacks. Can you imagine turning on your tap at home and seeing thick, orange, cloudy viscous water come out? That’s what this was. That’s why our United Jewish Appeal pays for jugs of water to get to homes in southern Ukraine, so that people can cook, drink and wash.

The Russian missile and rocket attacks means that Ukrainians are without power many hours each day. And when there’s no power, then there’s no water pumping, no sewage, no credit or bank transactions, no heating, no lighting. Inna has a large timetable of the timeslots of planned blackouts – many, each day, to help the generators provide as much to everyone. But once the sirens start and the rockets fall, everything is shut down. People go hungry, cold, thirsty. They hide. They are left traumatized.

Svetlana and her mother Ludmilla fled Odessa a few weeks ago with her son Adam, just four months old. They left Ludmilla’s other son and Svetlana’s husband behind, both fighting in the Ukrainian army, as they get ready to make Aliyah, hoping that the men can eventually follow them. They were cold, hungry. They came with almost nothing.

And as we sat and talked about their journey, the terror of the bombings and rocket attacks, and their immense gratitude at living in safety, I saw the power and impact of what we can do as a collective. No individual alone can do what we’ve managed to do this past year. For the first time in Jewish history every Jew fleeing as a refugee has been rescued. That takes a massive Jewish effort. That takes us.

To mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Federations are joining with JDC for a “Shabbat for Ukrainian Jews” on Friday, February 24. Stay tuned for more information.