Igor's Family is our Family

It started in November with peaceful protests against government actions to strengthen political ties with Russia instead of the European Union. It snowballed over the next few months into violent confrontations between police and protestors, resulting in dozens dead, hundreds injured, a fugitive ex-President, and scenes of destruction that have gripped the world. And it’s not over.

Although the estimated 300,000 Jewish residents in the capital city of Kiev and throughout Ukraine are not outright targets of violence, it has touched them like everyone else. Some Jews in Kiev live close to Independence Square, site of protest encampments and some of February’s deadliest clashes, and are afraid to leave their houses. On February 23, the Giymat Rosa Synagogue in Zaporizhia, 250 miles southeast of Kiev, was firebombed. There are concerns about deepening divisions in the country and the rise of the radical right.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, through our partners, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), and World ORT, are on the ground. Because we have supported Jewish life and organizations in Ukraine for decades, we are able to step up as the need for help intensifies.

• JDC has activated its emergency response network to ensure continued home deliveries of food, medicine, heating and cooking fuel, and sustained life-saving care at home for the elderly. JDC has increased security at select Jewish communal institutions and Hesed social welfare centers. For updates, please visit JDC’s Ukraine page.

• The Jewish Agency has tapped its Emergency Assistance Fund, started in 2012, to bolster security at Ukraine’s many Jewish institutions, including synagogues, yeshivas and community centers. For updates, please visit the Jewish Agency’s website.

• World ORT is increasing security at four of its schools in Ukraine. Each school has several hundred students, many of whom travel to class through now-dangerous areas. The father of a student at the Chernovtsy school was killed during clashes in Kiev on February 20. Plans include hiring additional security guards and installing closed-circuit TV and alarm systems on school grounds. For more information on World ORT’s Ukraine programs and needs, please read ORT’s Ukraine prospectus and school security plan.

The instability in Ukraine continues as opposition parties, Maidan activists and various civic groups negotiate to determine the new government's composition and the country's future.

The situation in Eastern and Southern Ukraine remains volatile as pro-Russian demonstrations continue. Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov issued a statement voicing concern about growing separatist threats in these regions.

Ukraine is also facing a looming economic crisis. Interim Finance Minister Yury Kolobov said that Ukraine will need $35 billion in foreign assistance by the end of 2015.

Although geographically far away, it is still close to home. 

Earlier this week, I received an email from a community member in Southwest Washington asking if we could help Igor Shakhman, Executive Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, provide services to his parents who still live in Kharkov, Ukraine. Here is what he shared...

I am the only child and most of our relatives left the Ukraine years ago. My parents are almost 70 and my father just had heart surgery (medical care in Ukraine is nothing like that in America). Doctors have told him to “take it easy” and limit his physical activity.

Life is pretty demanding in Kharkov. They don’t have a car and need to walk (15-20 minutes) to various stores to purchase groceries and then carry all of it home. Due to my job and the costs, I am not able to visit them except maybe once per year. I have thought about bringing my parents to the United States, but it is a difficult process. Plus, they are still working as music teachers and have a vibrant community of friends and students.

My parents need help where they are. Someone to help buy groceries and water. Someone to help around the house. And someone to check on them as my father recovers. All of this with the current unrest.

I am proud to say that within 36 hours, through our partners at the JDC, we contacted the Hesed (think of our Jewish Family and Child Service) in Kharkov. Igor’s father was already a Hesed client. The Hesed staff spoke to his mother. The father returned home from the hospital and his caseworker was there to evaluate the situation and provide additional services needed during his recuperation. The family will receive six hours of home care each week, including assistance in buying food, cooking, bathing, and cleaning their apartment.

As Igor wrote to me, “I have spoken to my mother. The services that you are providing are absolutely perfect and essential for somebody in this situation and is an amazing (and probably the only) solution to the problem. Again, many thanks.”

Our efforts to help Igor’s family are no different than what we do on a daily basis for Jews here in Portland, Southwest Washington, and around the world. I am proud of what WE make possible through your generous contributions. The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland has been doing this for over 93 years and we will continue to do so for generations to come. As someone once said, “We may not be related, but we are family.” Igor’s family is OUR family.

Shabbat shalom and may quiet and calm come to the people of Ukraine.


Be sure to join me along with others from our community on Monday night for a thought provoking discussion about the findings in A Portrait of Jewish Americans released by the Pew Research Center last fall as they relate to Portland’s Jewish Community. Moderated by Neil Simon with remarks by Bob Liebman (Portland State University), Steve Wasserstrom (Reed College), and myself. Click here for more details on what will be a fun, informative and interesting evening.

Mazel tov to the Mittleman Jewish Community Center as it celebrates its 100th anniversary. To this day, it remains the “living room” of our Jewish community with opportunities for cultural, educational, recreational, and social activities for all.


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