By Joel Marcovitch and Max Brickman
In moments of senseless violence and injustice, the juxtaposition between the worst and the best of humanity comes to light. This was certainly the case as we walked the streets at the border between Ukraine and Poland. From the Ukrainian side, refugees poured in carrying only a few of their personal belongings, yet burdened with the heavy weight of all they had endured sheltering in bunkers, traversing for miles and sleeplessly awaiting a reprieve from the uncertainty of their days ahead.
But like a flame burning on a dark night, the feeling on the Polish side was a warm and welcome sight. As refugees took their first steps into safety, they were greeted by a number of resource tents from around the globe – the first of which was adorned in the vibrant blue and white Israeli flag. Max and I had the distinct honor of supplying arriving refugees with the basic necessities, resources and information they needed to breathe their first sighs of relief.
This was the case for a 28-year-old woman traveling with her 58-year-old mother and 97-year-old grandmother. As she scanned the tents, she remembered her grandmother’s advice to look for the Israeli flag. Upon arriving at the tent, she explained that they would like safe passage to Israel, and the Jewish Agency for Israel asked her, “Are you Jewish?” To which she replied no. But before further discourse could unfold, this young woman reached into her bag and produced something remarkable:
Her grandmother had managed to save a “Righteous Among the Nations” certificate that was given to her by the State of Israel. This grandmother had risked her life during WWII to save Jews from the Nazis, and now Israel was present to save the lives of her and her family. Even as we reflect, that story still gives me chills – a sensation I expect will stay with me for life.
Thanks to the quick work of organizations like the JDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel, those three extraordinary women are likely settling into their new lives in Israel as you read these words. Since the start of the refugee crisis, 6,000 Ukrainians have chosen to go to Israel. Others look toward their friends and family across Europe for a semi-permanent place to stay. And others prefer to remain close to the border, hoping to reconnect with spouses and loved ones who remain in Ukraine.
Our job was not to pressure refugees to make any immediate choice about their next destination. Rather, we were there to offer support and comfort as they began to process the psychological trauma of all they had endured. Through the generous financial support of donors, the JDC and Jewish Agency for Israel were able to rent three major hotels in Warsaw and others across Poland to offer space to these refugees. This is in addition to a $2 million deal with Airbnb that empowered us to offer coupon codes to Jewish refugees that would allow them to stay in these Airbnb apartments for two weeks.
Beyond welcoming Ukrainian Jews into Israel, the caring arms of Israel also stretched to these border towns through the work of young Israeli educators who specialize in children’s trauma. We visited the renowned Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva where, in the library, these Israeli educators had opened a preschool and trauma center for refugee children.
Across every effort to support Ukrainian Jews and refugees, one reality remained constant, which is that this work was only possible because of the strong foundation and networks cultivated there for decades. One of the reasons JewishColumbus is able to respond so quickly is because we were there the day before the crisis. Today and every day, we work tirelessly to support Jews, both in our own community and across the globe.
This is why your support of JewishColumbus is so important. When the worst of humanity rears its ugly head, your contributions to the Annual Campaign allow us to respond with the decisive action and holistic support that gives Jews around the world hope.
We encourage you to give to the JewishColumbus Annual Campaign today to fan this flame of hope that welcomes Jews around the world home. We’re counting on you.