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Crisis in Ukraine

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Jewish Federations of North America, World Central Kitchen, JDC & Masorti relief efforts

Message from Rabbi Abraham - 2-23-23

As we sit at the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, we continue to be saddened by the shocking loss of life and the sheer number of refugees flooding Europe.
At the same time, we must be proud, as Jewish Federations of North America CEO & President Eric Fingerhut has said, "The historians of our generation will write about this period as the first time ever that a war broke out in Europe and being a Jew did not mean you were a victim, but that there was an infrastructure in place to rescue and care for you."
$85 million has been raised across the Federation system for humanitarian aid and relief for Ukrainians.Through the hard work of JFNA and local communities, those dollars have made the following impact:
  •    500,000 people were supported with humanitarian assistance and relief
  •    700,000 meals were distributed
  •    65,000 people were supported in immigrating to Israel
  •    130,000 people received medical care
  •    4,000 medical and mental health professionals received training
  •    120 volunteer placements were made to aid refugees in Europe
This conflict is far from over, and we must continue to be engaged both in becoming knowledgeable and helping to assist in the effort. However, we can also know that when our brothers and sisters in Europe needed our help, we did not shy away but stood up and provided much-needed assistance.

Message from Rabbi Abraham about his trip the Ukraine Border - 4-6-22


Below are some of my thoughts and observations during my unforgettable trip to Poland.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Our journey started as Jeff Kirshenbaum checked into United with 28 bags of Humanitarian goods. Our flights were easy, and we are so thankful to Bob Lohrman for making all our arrangements.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

As we embarked on our journey, it was essential for me to express why I thought this mission was so important. Jeff and I came to see the incredible work being done by a host of Jewish and secular organizations: organizations such as the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), Natan, The JCC in Warsaw; all working under the umbrella of the Jewish Federation & Jewish Agency. We came both to witness and help raise awareness for this vital work back in Omaha.

When we arrived in Warsaw, we were immediately met by JFNA staff and shortly joined the other 25 members of our trip from all over North America. Our first stop was to drop off goods at a makeshift distribution center at the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw. It was remarkable to see all the humanitarian goods brought from Omaha and its sister Federation Communities. The speaker from the JDC explained that besides the work they have been doing for women and children, they have also been helping to relocate Holocaust Survivors who were looking to leave Ukraine (at least in the short term). As with many refugees, the JDC explained that most of the refugees want to return to Ukraine and so are choosing to relocate for the time being throughout the EU. The last choice is to fly across the Atlantic unless they have family in the US. Ironically, many of the refugees are choosing to go to Germany; these elderly Jews want to go to Germany as they see it as the best place for their families.

Following our tour of the JDC facility and unloading all our humanitarian aid we headed for the Focus Hotel. The Focus Hotel is near the center of Warsaw. This is a lovely, 4-star hotel with quality accommodations, modern furniture, and great Wi-Fi. The hotel, and a few others, have been leased by the JDC and The Jewish Agency for Israel to house people who have fled Ukraine with the hopes of making Aliyah to Israel.

The Israeli government has established a fully staffed hospital at the hotel and also has set up a mobile consulate to speed-process citizenship for each person. In addition, there have been almost daily flights to Israel – mostly chartered – to bring Ukrainian citizens to Israel. Upon arriving in Israel, they immediately receive an Israeli Passport and earn full citizenship. They then go to an absorption center that begins the process of integrating them into Israeli society.

It is absolutely remarkable and extremely hard to put into words the logistics and collaboration that had to come into place between The Jewish Agency and The JDC. As we left The Focus Hotel, we were given a few facts and figures:

    68,955 - number of calls starting on Feb 24 to make Aliyah and ask for assistance
    8,998 - Ukrainians who have made Aliyah (as of 4/4/22)
    11,046 - Russian applications for Aliyah. This is a less talked about dilemma but an essential piece of the story.
    5,000 - number of non-Jews that Israel will absorb
    5 - countries, including Poland that are helping Jewish refugees
    $41,302,939 - monies raised by the Jewish Community has raised

While at the hotel, we heard several incredible stories. One story was from a gentleman whose mother had been designated a righteous gentile by Yad Vashem for saving a Jewish family during WWII. Due to their family's status as righteous gentiles, they could gain entry from Ukraine to Israel.

After returning to the Marriott, we were honored to hear from the newly minted Israeli Ambassador to Poland, Honorable Yakov Livne. He and his office have worked to help the 15,000 Israeli get out of Ukraine and build up the Jewish Agency presence in Warsaw to help Ukrainian Jews get to Israel. He also spoke passionately about how Poland has stepped up throughout this conflict. Israel is the only country operating a field hospital within Ukraine.

We then heard from Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland. Rabbi Schudrich explained that as soon as the war broke out, a Crisis Management System among all Polish Jewish network agencies was established. Rabbi Schudrich pointed out that "For hundreds of years Jews in Europe were the crisis, now we are the running the crisis management center."

Not being able to sleep last night, I took a much-needed walk. First, I felt the need to take a walk to see the monument to Janusz Korczak, the Polish Jewish Doctor who ran an orphanage saving countless Jewish children (pictured below). Afterward, I walked a few blocks to see one of the monuments of the Warsaw Ghetto. It was difficult, if not impossible, to live with the dissonance of walking through a beautiful modern city and yet right in the middle are monuments to our people's past that took place no more than 80 years ago.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

As I write this, we are on our way to Medyka, Poland, a town on the border with Ukraine.

Everywhere Jeff and I go, folks ask where we are from, and we are proud to say - Omaha, Nebraska. Thank you for being on this journey with us.

Message from Rabbi Abraham about his trip the Ukraine Border - 4-7-22

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

This morning we woke at 5:00 am, boarded the bus and headed for Medyka on the Poland-Ukraine border. On our way south we passed by the city of Lublin, the home of the famous Lublin Yeshiva (Chomei Lublin) and the infamous Concentration Camp Majdanek. The Medyka border was a surreal experience. Over the past 6 weeks, approximately 2.5 million Ukrainians have left their homeland, upwards of 125,000 at the Medyka border crossing. It was incredible to see free food offered by the Sikh community food truck, World Central Kitchen, the Egyptian triage tent, and the Italian paramedics.

It is hard to describe the feeling of seeing families, children and elderly walk across the border searching for safety. It is one thing to talk about it, it is one thing to hear it, it is a different experience to be standing watching a family walk across a national border searching for safety and a new life. The scene was unlike anything I had ever seen or felt before, yet I had a deep sense of pride knowing that the Israeli flag was the first thing you see when walking into Poland.

Following our time at the border, we drove about ten minutes to a makeshift refugee camp in Przemśl at a Tesco Shopping Center. The center had recently been closed and the mayor decided to turn the center into a shelter. We had the privilege to walk in, although photos were not allowed out of respect for the privacy of the refugees. As we walked in, we saw flags of multiple nations from UK to Germany, and families were sleeping under the flags of the countries they hoped to immigrate. Inside the Tesco Center, Israel has set up a medical clinic staffed by Hadassah Hospital staff as well as a daycare also staffed by Israelis. What is important to point out is that there was NO NEED for Israel to have any resources at the Tesco Center, as anyone who wanted to make Aliyah would have already declared this to the JDC and skipped the Tesco Center. The entire reason for Israel to have staff at the Tesco Center was because of their care and concern for the Ukrainian people.

We left the refugee center and headed for the Rzeszow Jasionka Airport to fly back to Warsaw. As we drove into the airport the first thing, we saw was a dozen U.S. Patriot Missile Batteries. In addition, the base next to the airport has been staffed by members of the 82nd Airborne of the US Army. All of these precautions have been taken to defend Poland, a NATO ally of the United States.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

While the formal program was now over, Jeff and I woke up and attend Shacharit Services at the Nozyk Synagogue. The Nozyk Synagogue is a Jewish Heritage Site; during the war the Nazis turned it into horse stables. Now it is once again an active congregation housing a Kollel and daily minyan.

Before we headed to the airport on Thursday, we met with the JDC leadership in Warsaw that has been relocated to the Hampton Inn Hotel. This hotel currently hosts 80 adults and 18 youth; there are 5 hotels across Poland hosting over 200 adults (mostly of Jewish). JDC never asked if anyone was Jewish -- folks were evacuated, and they wanted to help.

At the JDC meeting we met with the head of youth activities for Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and others. She oversees 63 cities with Jewish youth across Russian speaking countries. She went from Moscow to Riga, Latvia and then on to Warsaw. We also met with the director of the JCC in Kharkiv (Harkov) in Ukraine, a city now destroyed by the Russian military. Both women are refugees yet are now helping to acclimate other refugees to Warsaw.

It has been a whirlwind 50 hours on the ground in Poland, an experience I will never forget. I look forward to sharing some of my experience about the work being done on the ground and how we can help after Shabbat services on Friday evening.

Message from Rabbi Abraham - 3-29-22

Dear Beth El Community,

Rabbi Abraham and Jeff Kirshenbaum have volunteered to travel on a Jewish Federations of North American (JFNA) humanitarian trip to the Ukraine border. They are requesting the following items to bring to Poland:
1 - Over-the-Counter Medications – this can include pain relievers, cold and flu medication, sleep aids, band-aids, gas relief etc. We have created an Amazon Wish List with some ideas. No need to purchase from Amazon, and you need not be limited to the brands and items listed there.
2 - Passover Toys and Games – UJA Federation of New York and JFN are launching a Ukraine Passover Project to fund seders and Passover food delivery within Ukraine and at all the major refugee centers in bordering countries. To support them, we are asking participants to bring over Passover toys, stickers and games for children. Some examples can be found on this Amazon Wish List. You can also buy toys at a local store and bring them with you.
Please bring any of these items to the front desk of the Jewish Federation Schlessinger Family Lobby at 333 South 132nd Street by Friday, April 1, by 3 pm. 
If you want to order from Amazon and have items delivered directly to the Federation, please use the following address. 
Attention: Tonya Janke
Jewish Federation of Omaha
333 South 132nd Street
Omaha, NE 68154
Thank you for your support.
Rabbi Steven Abraham

Message from Rabbi Abraham - 3-2-22

Dear Friends,

Given the rapidly changing events in Ukraine and the regions, JDC is committed to keeping us abreast of the situation on the ground and JDC's ongoing response to those they serve.

JDC will hold an Emergency Briefing tomorrow (Thursday) at 10:00 am CST.

Click here to register.

Members of JDC’s team in the region will share their updates and how they are navigating the rising challenges.

JDC is continuously grateful for your support and commitment during these times of crisis and pray for the safety of our brothers and sisters overseas.

Click here to donate to JDC relief efforts in Ukraine. Your urgent gift will guarantee that Ukraine's most vulnerable Jews continue to receive emergency support.

Rabbi Steven Abraham

Dear Friends,
Many have asked how they can help the Jewish communities in the Ukraine. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is another great organization that is directly servicing those in need.
With this tremendous responsibility, the JDC has been preparing for a variety of different scenarios and yesterday transitioned from Scenario 1 (pre-conflict) to the top level – a full-blown war.
The priority right now is ensuring that services continue and to assist Jews to find safety.
Given the dynamic situation, and the unfortunate reality that it may persist, the JDC is currently projecting millions of dollars in need at this time.
This includes:
• Providing emergency assistance, including food and medicine to vulnerable Jewish seniors and families
• Mobilizing volunteers, staff, and network of Hesed social service centers to save lives
• Preparing for mass displacement, with plans to provide shelter and deploy psychosocial support and increased aid to the most vulnerable
• Activating online platforms and hotlines created during the pandemic to deliver remote care and maintain human connection with the most isolated
• Coordinating their emergency response with other agencies on the ground to ensure critical assistance reaches distressed Jews in the region
Click here to donate to JDC relief efforts in Ukraine. Your urgent gift will guarantee that Ukraine's most vulnerable Jews continue to receive emergency support.

Rabbi Steven Abraham

Message from Rabbi Abraham - 2-24-22

Dear Friends,
Today our prayers turn towards the people of Ukraine, as the violence continues to escalate. Masorti Olami and The Schechter Institutes are in close contact with our communities across Ukraine. Efforts are underway to get all of our communities in Ukraine to our western-most community in Chernivtsi, as it is the safest option right now. This means organizing immediate transport, and reserving accommodation for refugees fleeing from other cities.
In response to the outpouring of concern, click here if you would like to make a donation to support Masorti communities in the Ukraine. Everyone is also welcome to join the global prayer for peace at noon today, see below for details.
Rabbi Steven Abraham
Mon, June 17 2024 11 Sivan 5784