I wish I could write about something different.
The conflict in Ukraine continues. Some of the heaviest Russian bombardments continue to take place in the besieged city of Mariupol where only 100,000 of the 400,000 residents remain. Those staying are rationing food and water as bodies are left in the streets. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said what Russian forces have done to Mariupol is an “act of terror that will be remembered for centuries.”
As of today, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine is now over three million people with close to two-thirds going to Poland.
Rabbi Michael Cahana of Congregation Beth Israel (CBI) will be joining a group of 25 Reform rabbis visiting Poland April 10-14. They are there to help relieve the volunteers who are providing life-saving services to refugees and to be witness to the human tragedy unfolding. He has been been asked to bring needed supplies -- baby formula, disinfectants and antiseptics. If you wish to donate goods, please bring them to the CBI office by April 8.
During Russia’s build-up to the war in January and February, the United States admitted only 514 Ukrainian refugees. And between March 1-16, only seven Ukrainian refugees were resettled in the United States, even as the war intensified and the number of Ukrainian refugees skyrocketed.
Our community knows painfully too well what happens when America shuts its doors to refugees.
A week ago, the Jewish Federation system sent a letter signed by 376 national and local Jewish and faith organizations urging the Biden Administration to expedite admissions for Ukrainian refugees. I am pleased to note that yesterday President Biden announced the opportunity for 100,000 Ukrainian refugees to come to the United States.
To plan and prepare for any potential influx of immigrants to Portland, the Jewish Federation convened a meeting of local Jewish and non-Jewish organizations (Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Services, etc.) to help in this effort. We discussed ways our organizations can assist refugees upon arrival while recognizing that refugees will not be arriving in the immediate future. Plus, the U.S. State Department dictates who may go where. I appreciate the openness of the meeting participants as we work together in a consultative and collaborative way.
One challenge to consider -- men are not allowed to leave Ukraine. How far away do families want to go and be divided? That is why so many are going to bordering countries with the hopes to return home.
We will continue to update you on ways you can assist refugees if/when they arrive in Portland.
The refugee issue ties to the passing of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who did not discover until age 59 that her family was Jewish. After she became secretary of state, Albright, who was born in Prague to a Czech diplomat, learned her parents had converted to Catholicism to avoid Nazi persecution during WWII and that 26 members of her family, including three grandparents, were likely killed in the Holocaust.
Her family received asylum in the United States after fleeing the communist regime in what was then Czechoslovakia, a formative experience that shaped her open and welcoming approach to similar refugee crises around the world.
Beyond the urgency for refugees to come to America, I am proud to share that global Jewry is doing its part.
In just over three weeks since the fighting began, our Jewish community has raised over $365,000 and nationwide, Jewish Federations have raised more than $38.5 million for Ukrainian relief efforts. Funds have already been distributed to many partner organizations, including: Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), World ORT, United Hatzalah, Hillel International, Nefesh B’ Nefesh, HIAS, the Israel Trauma Coalition, Hadassah Medical Organization, Chabad, and Shema Yisrael.
Here are some quick statistics that may be of interest:
- 4,000 Jewish immigrants from Ukraine have arrived in Israel
- 823 Jewish immigrants have arrived from Russia (with many more applying).
- 7,120 people are currently accommodated in the Jewish Agency's transit facilities in five countries (including in Ukraine itself).
- 8,088 Ukrainian candidates for aliyah have filed papers to go to Israel.
- 10,282 Ukrainian nationals have arrived in Israel, including 6,513 Ukrainians who are not eligible for aliyah. The current directive of Israel’s Ministry of Interior allows entry without quota of Ukrainians who have relatives in Israel, even if they are not eligible for aliyah. Many of these refugees entered Israel as tourists, and officials estimate that 70% of them will eventually apply for aliyah status.
- $559,000 has been transferred as emergency security grants to 66 communities and organizations in Ukraine. The grants help improve and upgrade the protection and security of community facilities.
- 23,000 items of humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees have been collected, including: coats, blankets, gloves, hats, and scarves, as well as personal hygiene equipment such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, etc. A first plane with 120-tons of aid has already been dispatched, and a second plane with 110 tons will follow.
- The JDC is currently serving 32,000 Jews in Ukraine, while at the same time they have helped to evacuate 10,000 Jews.
- 70% of the approximately 9,000 elderly Jews that were receiving homecare prior to the war are still being serviced by JDC in Ukraine, despite near-impossible wartime conditions.
- 2,000 beds on average are occupied in JDC-supported facilities where refugees receive three meals each day.
- JDC sent social workers to map refugees’ needs and available social support networks in Poland, Moldova, and Romania.
The needs are real and continue. Please support our ongoing Ukraine Relief Fund efforts by making your contribution here.
And yes, to answer the question we are frequently asked, our partners help everyone who needs help, not just our fellow Jews, though they, of course, know that we are there for them and will not leave until each and every Jew is safe.
It is also important to note that earlier this week, Israel opened “Kohav Meir" (named after Ukrainian-born former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, and meaning “Shining Star”), a field hospital in Mostyska. The hospital is being staffed by over 60 medical professionals from Israel’s Sheba Medical Center. The hospital, financed in part by our Jewish Federation, is part of Israeli humanitarian efforts and is scheduled to be active for at least one month. It contains an emergency ward, maternity ward, and several other departments to help those in need.
I am in awe of what we are currently doing!
Shabbat shalom and it is likely no Marc's Remarks next week.