I could share hundreds of stories with you, but here is one that sums up the work being done on the ground in Ukraine. This is homecare worker, Anna Bonchar, 40, and her client, Holocaust survivor Ludmila Angstvurm, 85, who live in Kyiv.
Bonchar has her own family to worry about and keep safe, but every morning she buys the necessary essentials for Ludmila and stays with her until their city’s curfew starts.
“Ludmila lives on the third floor, and she can’t move downstairs because of her legs. So, when the sirens sound, we slowly make our way to the bathroom or hallway. We feel safer there,” she said. “We hear blasts very often, but we support each other with hugs when we’re very scared. We hold each other close, and we pray for peace.”
Responses to emergencies are not spontaneous. Far from it. Cities do not wait until there is a fire to build a fire department. The Jewish community is no different -- we do not wait until there is an emergency to create an effective system of rescue and humanitarian aid. The skill and expertise we have been witnessing in the relief efforts in Ukraine and bordering countries is the result of years of experience, training, and relationship building our partners have achieved.
The Jewish Federation has been supporting essential organizations of Jewish relief and rescue like the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Joint Distribution Committee year in and year out for nearly a century. This funding supports the infrastructure that makes them ready on the ground and able to mobilize immediately to do the extraordinary work they are doing in Ukraine -- saving lives and caring for the most vulnerable.
Earlier this week, there was an important editorial in The New York Jewish Week. It shares how the current situation in Ukraine is a pivotal change in the Jewish landscape.
Ukraine spells the end of the Jewish post-rescue era. For the past 20 years or so, the Jewish community was in a “post-rescue” era. Following the exodus of Soviet Jews, and the airlifts of Ethiopian Jews, Jewish organizations had to adjust to a reality – perhaps the first in Jewish history -- of a world in which there were no captive Jewish communities.
As a result, much of the communal energy – fundraising, activism, political lobbying – was directed to other issues, including defense of Israel, anti-antisemitism, “tikkun olam” (that is, support for universal causes) and, crucially, “continuity,” the catch-all phrase describing efforts to slow the pace of assimilation and waning Jewish literacy.
One of the shocks of Russia’s war on Ukraine is the realization that once again Jews are in harm’s way or on the run. This is not to say this is a crisis specific to Jews, they are a fraction of the 2,000,000 Ukrainian refugees flooding into neighboring countries.
This crisis will be remembered for the way it has put Jewish organizations back on rescue footing, calling on muscle memory that hasn’t been flexed in decades.
We are in the month of Adar II (Jewish calendar leap year) when we are commanded to be happy. Unfortunately, it is not easy with the current world events. But next Wednesday evening and Thursday we will celebrate the Purim holiday with Megillah readings, costumes, mishloach manot (gifts of food or drink), hamantashen, and Matanot L'evyonim (cash donations to people in need -- like those in Ukraine).
Click here to find the various Purim happenings in our community.
Purim celebrates the story of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai, who saved the Jews of Persia from Haman’s plot to kill them. During this joyful holiday, we are thankful for the survival of the Jewish community in Persia, but also reminded of the injustice and oppression in our world. The Purim story reminds us that as Jews, we believe in freedom and opportunity for all who face danger. We may not be able to help everyone, but we can certainly do all we can when Jews are at-risk.
Natan Sharansky (listen to an excellent interview with Moment Magazine from yesterday), former Soviet dissident, said this week, “I am reminded of the thousands of people standing at the borders of Ukraine trying to escape. They are standing there day and night and there is only one word that can help them get out: ‘Jew.’ If you are a Jew, there are Jews outside who care about and are waiting for you. There is someone on the other side of the border who is searching for you. Your chances of leaving are excellent.
The world has changed. When I was a child, ’Jew‘ was an unfortunate designation. No one envied us. But today on the Ukrainian border, identifying as a Jew is a most fortunate circumstance. It describes those who have a place to go, where their family, an entire nation, is waiting for them on the other side.”
What we are doing today is both a miracle and a result of hard work, dedication, and unwavering commitment. Thank you for being a part of this effort at this pivotal moment in history.