I take much of the language in this week’s Shabbat message from a correspondence I received from our national system, the Jewish Federations of North America. I know that for many of us our “Jewish attention” has been focused on our local Jewish community, on the Israeli elections and on growing anti-Semitism across Europe. I think it is important to not lose sight of the plight of Jews in Ukraine.
Nearly a year has passed since pro-Russian separatists began battling Ukrainian forces in the eastern party of the country. Since then, over 5,000 civilians have died and 12,000 others have been wounded. While this violence has thankfully not specifically targeted the Jewish community, thousands of Jews have been swept up in the turmoil of a political and military conflict which continues to unfold.
The Jewish Federations of North America has responded generously to this crisis providing nearly $3 Million in emergency financing in 2014 to address new urgent needs in addition to enabling a wide range of vital ongoing programs to continue operating. Our Federation provided its “fair share” towards this effort.
Cities in eastern Ukraine have become combat zones where near constant shelling has brought normal life to a standstill. Most Jews from Donetsk, Lugansk and the surrounding areas have fled, but some 5,000 elderly and disabled Jews who were unable to leave the area are trapped in place – cut off from the rest of the country.
In a shocking development, between 1,500 – 2,000 Jews have become displaced from their homes and, unable to find safe havens elsewhere, now live as Jewish refugees on European soil for the first time since World War II. In addition to providing essential humanitarian assistance, our partners are stretching to ensure uninterrupted help for those seeking to make aliyah to Israel and continuity of vital educational and community programs.
For our brothers and sisters in eastern Ukraine, this aid means the difference between life and death, between despair and hope. I know we will be asked to provide additional resources as those that have been contributed are running out.
As you celebrate Shabbat tonight with your families, keep those in Ukraine in your thoughts.