The attention of the Jewish community turns toward Ukraine for many reasons. It is from where many of our families originated. My own great-grandfather left Odessa for New York in 1898. It has been both the centre of a vibrant Jewish life for a thousand years and introduced the world to Pogroms.
Ukraine has a violent history of antisemitism, yet today is being led by a Jewish president and prime minister. And as Jews, we remember well a Europe ravaged by war, dictatorship, refugees and the loss of innocent civilians.
Many in our community have reached out asking what can we do? The Jewish Agency and Masorti Olami (our global Conservative Movement) tell me that clothing, toy or food drives from outside of local communities are wasted. The cost, logistics, sorting and distribution are not worth the effort. Packages sent to refugee areas are not being received. Though we desire to engage tangibly in assistance, that’s not the help most needed now.
At the moment, the most important assistance needed is funding. The goal is to get as many people to safety as possible. That requires staff, buses, logistics, security, (bribes), food, medicine and shelter.
Thus far, thousands of Ukrainian Jews have reached safety in Europe and the first plane loads of people are arriving in Israel this week. What a blessing it is to be alive in a time in which we have a State of Israel and it, and we, have the resources to mobilize and provide refuge for those who need it.
You can help with a gift through the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto to The Jewish Agency or the Joint Distribution Committee (contribute here>>). Or you can give to the Masorti Movement (contribute here>> by selecting "Masorti Canada Ukrainian Relief Fund" from the dropdown menu).
There is an expectation in the near future for calls for volunteers to go to Europe and Israel to assist with the refugees. That likely won’t start until the end of this month at the earliest. All sorts of volunteers will be needed. Once that initiative is organized, we will communicate with our community and, perhaps, lead a few missions to help.
May God guard the remnants of Israel. Amen.
—Rabbi Steven Wernick