הבאה בירושלים L’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim. Next year in Jerusalem!
Each year at our Passover seder we exclaim these meaningful words. This week when we all say “Next year in Jerusalem,” I’m grateful that our community will be able to make it a reality with our Jewish Federation’s historic Centennial Mission to Israel. We’ll celebrate Federation@100 and Israel@75. It’ll be the best thing you do in 2023! Our mission leadership team and all our synagogue and agency partners are moving full speed ahead on the exciting itinerary. This mission will be meaningful, uplifting, inspiring, and incredible. Whether you’ve never been to Israel or have visited many times, you’ll enjoy something special and new when you travel together with Federation as a community.
This is your cue to save the dates and plan to join us for this once-in-a-century experience! Registration will open in early June 2022. For now, you can learn more and sign up to receive future updates at https://www.jfedgmw.org/centennial-mission/
I also hope that you’ll join us on May 11 at 7pm on Zoom as we honor Bob Kuchner for his many years of dedication to our Jewish community. We’ll also recognize Linda Forgosh for her 23 years of service to our Jewish Historical Society of Greater MetroWest. I invite you to share your well-wishes with Bob and/or Linda in the Virtual Ad Journal. We’ll share messages in this journal at the event and on our website, and we’ll provide a printed copy for the honorees. Ads must be submitted by April 13 to be shown at the event. Purchase tickets and journal ads here: https://loom.ly/LQ5jHvI.
Our Israel Centennial Mission and Jewish history may feel like different areas from what’s happening in and around Ukraine. But, in some respects, they aren’t. Jewish federations never close, and our work continues on dozens of levels and with hundreds of partners, in New Jersey, in Israel, and across the world. After one-and-a-half months of fighting, the war continues in Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians, including tens of thousands of Jews, have fled the country and millions of others are internally displaced. Jewish Federations and our partners continue to work together to ensure that urgent relief reaches the most needy. You can read more about what I’ve written about the situation here.
THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS
The Russian assault on Mariupol continues. Russian forces bombarded several towns in Eastern Ukraine on Sunday, damaging civilian targets and a train station in Kramatorsk, leaving over 50 people dead. Ukrainian officials claim they are preparing for a major Russian offensive in the Eastern region.
Deadly attacks on other civilian targets in Ukraine continue. Media reports have claimed the discovery of as many as 50 bodies along a stretch of highway running south from Kyiv to Zhytomyr. British military intelligence issued a report on Sunday claiming evidence that Russia’s continued reliance on unguided bombs decreases its ability to discriminate between civilians and military targets. It also reported on the discovery of a mass grave near Burzova containing bodies of civilians.
Newly released satellite images show an eight-mile-long convoy of Russian armed vehicles moving east of Kharkiv, prompting Ukrainian officials to warn civilians in the Eastern region that time is running out to escape. Ukrainian officials estimate that 13,400 civilians were evacuated from the Eastern region since Friday.
The United Nations General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council over war crimes in Ukraine. Shortly after the vote, Russia announced that it was withdrawing from the council.
Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday.
According to the UN Human Rights Council, approximately 4.5 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the beginning of fighting. The largest influx of refugees is in Poland, with approximately 2.6 million. According to the UN Human Rights office, at least 1,842 Ukrainians have been killed and 2,493 injured since the breakout of fighting on February 24th. The office notes that the actual figures are likely considerably higher, as the relaying of information is often delayed especially in areas of intense fighting.
Israel’s Minister of Aliyah and Integration Pnina Tamano-Shata visited Israel’s “Shining Star” Field Hospital in Ukraine. According to media reports, she told the Israeli medical staff, “You are a pride for Israel. You are at the forefront and saving lives every day.” Israeli medical staff have treated thousands of Ukrainian refugees since the field hospital was erected. Tamano-Shata also visited a Jewish Agency hotel where Jewish Federations volunteers are on the ground lending support to refugees and Ukrainian Jews who wish to immigrate to Israel. Our volunteers joined the minister in song and dance to a joyous rendition of “Am Yisrael Chai!”
Five members of a Jerusalem orchestra flew to Warsaw where they played music for refugees, bringing some moments of respite and relief amidst the chaos of the fighting.
Israel’s cabinet approved a plan that will provide monthly rental assistance for a period of up to one year to new immigrants from Ukraine and other countries in the Former Soviet Union. Most of the immigrants are arriving to Israel with little or no possessions, having left behind their property and money to flee for their lives. This financial support will be in addition to the stipend that every immigrant to Israel receives.
Israel’s Ministry of Tourism announced that it will offer new immigrants free tours around Israel with Russian-speaking guides. Transportation for the new immigrants to and from their places of lodging is also included in this service. Over 160 Russian-speaking tour guides have already signed up for this initiative.
FLEEING UKRAINE, FEDERATIONS, AND PARTNERS ON THE GROUND
Jewish Federations have raised more than $44 million for Ukrainian relief efforts over the past one-and-a-half months since the fighting began. The relief efforts are being undertaken by 35 NGOs including our Jewish Federation partners, The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and World ORT; as well as by United Hatzalah, Hillel International, Nefesh B’Nefesh, HIAS, the Israel Trauma Coalition, Hadassah Medical Organization, Chabad, Sh’ma Yisrael, Project Kesher, JCC Krakow, the Emergency Volunteer Program and others. Jewish Federations have brought over 100 Jewish communal leaders from around North America to the Poland-Ukraine border on a series of humanitarian aid delegations, to provide relief to refugees and to evaluate the ongoing needs on the ground. You can read about David and my mission several weeks ago here.
Last week, Jewish Federations launched the creation of a first-of-its-kind central volunteer hub in support of refugees fleeing Ukraine. The first cohorts are on the ground in Poland, Budapest and on the Ukraine-Poland border providing humanitarian assistance, aiding olim in their immigration process and working with children. The initiative is being run in partnership with the Jewish Agency, the JDC and IsraAID.
My colleague Jewish Federation of Columbia Executive Director Ana Sazonov, who was born in Ukraine and grew up in Israel, is one of our volunteers on the Poland-Ukraine border. She shared the following remarks after her first week on the ground: “This is my calling and my service to be here and to serve my people on multiple levels – by being Ukrainian and by saving my Jewish brothers and sisters. I am seeing so much good from multiple organizations that are collaborating together to help. I see flags of Israel everywhere. To witness humanity coming together warms my heart and keeps me optimistic about our future. I am thankful that I am part of the Jewish Federation world and the Jewish world, and that Federations are making it possible for our partner organizations on the ground to do the impactful work they are doing and to save lives, no matter what their backgrounds are.”
Our colleagues in the New York (UJA-NY) Jewish Federation and local partners will bring Passover and the embrace of the Jewish community to thousands of Jews in Ukraine whose lives have been forever changed. UJA is leveraging its network to distribute matzah and Passover food to residents still in Ukraine, and organizing communal seders for displaced refugees and heroic volunteers who are helping them in neighboring countries.
Jewish Federation volunteers will help lead a communal seder for refugees with Jewish Agency shlichim in Budapest. Seders will be hosted in other cities as well, in partnership with the local Jewish community and Jewish organizations.
Federation-supported JDC has shipped more than two tons of matzah, over 400 bottles of grape juice and over 700 pounds of kosher for Passover food for refugees in Poland, Moldova, Hungary and Romania. The organization is also providing nearly 16 tons of matzah to tens of thousands of Ukrainians, in addition to special holiday material assistance for food. The distribution of matzah will be carried out by JDC’s Hesed social service centers and Jewish volunteer corps and is supported by Jewish Federation funds together with the Claims Conference, Jewish Federations and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The organization is also providing Haggadot in Russian and Hebrew for use at seders. The Jewish Agency has announced that it has handled 10,000 new aliyah inquiries since the outbreak of fighting, and over 30,000 calls have from Ukraine have been received through their emergency hotline.
A cargo plane full of 16 tons of supplies donated by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust that includes medications, food and humanitarian aid left Ben Gurion airport for Slovakia. The medical equipment will be used by Hatzalah volunteers on the ground to evacuate the ill and injured from Ukraine. They will be brought for treatment in Poland and in certain cases, flown to Israel. The Jewish Agency and JDC have both established emergency hotlines to assist the Jewish community in Ukraine.
Jewish Federations have activated our emergency protocols and are working closely with the Government of Israel and our partners to do everything in our power to support efforts that ensure the safety and well-being of the entire Jewish community in Ukraine, as well as to provide as much general humanitarian aid as we can.
Chag sameach, may it be quiet and peaceful for us all.