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Carrying Ralph Goldman’s Legacy Forward

Hebrew University President Menahem Ben-Sasson and Israel Supreme Court Deputy President Eliyakim Rubinstein were among the distinguished guests today at the opening of the Ralph I. Goldman Center for Social Welfare, Ethics, and Judaism at the university’s Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare, where Prof. Yedidiya Stern presented the opening lecture.
JDC Israel CEO Yossi Tamir headed a delegation of JDC professionals, who joined Goldman family members, friends, and a host of academics in this latest tribute to the legacy of Ralph Goldman, z”l, who passed away in October 2014, soon after celebrating his one-hundredth birthday.
An icon of international Jewish communal service, Ralph’s name was synonymous with JDC’s for over four decades. He served first as JDC’s Assoc. Director General in Israel and then as its Executive Vice President and Honorary Exec. Vice President, and he was still actively working on JDC’s behalf at his death.
Intensely interested in the interface between Jewish ethics and social welfare policies, Ralph himself laid the groundwork for this new Center. In 2008, with support from the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Fund, he collaborated with the Baerwald School to establish what has become an increasingly popular series of courses and student scholarship opportunities addressing this nexus.
It was an endeavor that continued a long-standing relationship between The Hebrew University and JDC, dating back to the establishment in 1958 of the social work school, named after Paul Baerwald, a founding member of the JDC, and the founding in 1971 of the Joseph J. Schwartz Training Center for Community Center Personnel, named after the JDC professional who led JDC’s response to WWII and the Shoah. [Learn more about JDC’s hallmark WWII-era activities at archives.JDC.org.]
Honoring Ralph’s legacy in a field so close to his heart, the eponymous Center will serve as a hub for groundbreaking academic explorations of this subject. It will offer graduate level courses, research groups, support for masters and doctoral studies, and opportunities for international collaboration and scholarly exchanges.
As JDC Executive Vice President Alan Gill reminds us, “Ralph lived his entire life in service to the Jewish People, and his greatest joy was to pass on his values to the next generation. This new center will do that and more–keeping his dreams, his vision, and his abiding sense of commitment alive for generations to come.”

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Fires in Israel Draw JDC Response

As raging fires in Israel caused scores of injuries and widespread fear, the evacuation of more than 70,000, and the destruction of hundreds of homes and businesses, JDC mobilized its Israel emergency response system and wide-ranging network of government of Israel, local municipality, and NGO partners to assess needs and ensure the most vulnerable Israelis aided by JDC are safe and cared.We remain proud of Israel’s stalwart response to this crisis, the aid offered by neighbors and other nations to fight the fires, and especially the outpouring of support by everyday Israelis for their fellow citizens facing so much loss. Included among those offering such help were Lev Echad – the leading national Israeli NGO providing volunteers that JDC has long supported – which deployed 100 volunteers in Haifa and a group of Arab and Jewish mayors from JDC’s Mayor’s Forum and from the Beit Ha’Kerem region in Israel’s north who rallied to host evacuated families, organize volunteers, and ensure various kinds of assistance.Reaffirming our support for those most in need in of critical services in times of crisis, we also activated our “Center for Independent Living” online platform for people with disabilities to receive real-time help around the clock. This web-based interactive portal of Israel Unlimited – the JDC partnership with the government of Israel and the Ruderman Family Foundation — is providing services, including support to calm concerns, and emergency information, for people with every kind of disability.
Additionally, the post-Second Lebanon War preparedness training and cooperative approach to responding to future disasters we promoted among Israel’s local emergency responders – firefighters, hospitals, police, and volunteers – has been effective years later during this crisis. The blazes were especially poignant for us at JDC as our staff, like their neighbors, were also impacted. Some, together with their families, were evacuated and we provided support on an individual basis to ensure their needs were met. Such efforts served as a reminder of the power of a caring community, whether professional or personal, when one is faced with extreme challenges. As Israel continues to fight the fires, and care for her citizens, we remain at the ready — standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity — to respond further, provide aid to the most vulnerable, and help strengthen Israel’s social fabric for the future and in the event of another unfortunate crisis.

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2nd Annual European Jewish Resilience Conference Helps Strengthen Tenacious Jewish Communities

As European Jews continue to face challenges including terror attacks, growing nationalism, rising anti-Semitism, the Syrian refugee crisis, and complex socioeconomic challenges, JDC believes strengthening Jewish community resilience and planning for the future are key to ensuring thriving Jewish life across the continent.
That’s why dozens of leaders, experts, and professionals came together to further invest in Jewish life at the second annual European Jewish Resilience Conference, recently held over two days in Barcelona.
Last year’s inaugural JDC Resilience Conference paved the way for this year’s confab, which acts as a forum in which community leaders and others can join together to have robust conversations on not only the current challenges they face, but also specific ways to overcome them.
“In these frightening times, it is very reassuring to know that there are people who are thinking ahead and helping us plan for the future,” said Yariv Reisler, Chairman of the Irish Jewish Museum.

Themes of the conference included: developing relationships with local authorities and other faith communities; strategies and common dilemmas to improve media relations; and models and best practices related to security and preparedness.
Co-organized with the European Council of Jewish Communities (ECJC) and the European Jewish Congress, and supported by UJA-Federation of New York, the event brought together attendees to learn about critical issues that will affect the future of Jewish community life in Europe. Despite rising tensions, most Jews in Europe are committed to a future there.
Keynote speakers like renowned historian and Paideia Director Fania Oz-Salzberger spoke about Judaism’s approach to resilience and community survival, while Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland highlighted extremist trends in Europe and a Jewish response to these movements.
“Resilience is not only about staying alive. It’s about asking, “Why is it worth it to be alive?,” Oz-Salzberger said.

The conference also included a conversation with Katharina von Schnurbein, who coordinates the European Union’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism, and a special panel discussion on French Jewry featuring Jewish leaders from France.
“I came into a room filled with strangers, but I felt that I was with family,” said Petra Kahn Nord, Secretary General of the Jewish Youth Union of Sweden. “We are all dealing with similar challenges and here we can really strengthen each other.”

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Life is But a Dream at New Halom JCC in Kiev

Despite many ongoing challenges in Ukraine today, Jewish life is thriving.
Yesterday, Kiev’s Jewish community and JDC held a special dedication for the Halom Jewish Community Center (JCC) in a ceremony that highlights the incredible revitalization of Jewish life since the fall of Communism, and even in the face of the current crisis.
American, Israeli and German government officials attended, along with a Kiev municipal leader and Jewish leaders, as well as JDC President Stan Rabin, JDC CEO Alan H. Gill, JDC CEO designate David Schizer, JDC FSU Regional Director Michal Frank, and Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).
In just two months of opening, the Center, a hub for Jewish cultural, educational, community, and social service programs and activities, has already seen 500 visitors and expects to see many more in the coming months.
The Halom JCC celebrates Jewish identity in every sense of the word, and the building, located in central Kiev, was designed to bring the broad swath of the city’s Jews together to create a self-sustainable Jewish community.
The name Halom, Hebrew for dream, and the logo for the facility were even chosen after a community-wide vote.
Multiple organizations and services are housed within the Center’s four floors that are spread over 17,000 square feet, such as Jewish Family Service (JFS), where at-risk families can access key resources they need, and a JDC office.
Also, displaced Jews who fled eastern Ukraine are better able to adjust to their new location as they engage in activities at the Halom JCC.
“The Halom JCC is like a dream. It is very bright and colorful, and already has children’s artwork proudly displayed in its entry way. We designed the furniture in different classrooms according to the ages of the students, so that it matches their exact height,” said Anna Bondar, Director of the Halom JCC. “It’s truly like a children’s paradise!”
The Center has activities for children including early childhood programs, baby and prenatal yoga, speech therapy, and mental health assistance; in addition to classes ranging from music and cooking to Hebrew and English language courses.
Additionally, the JCC-based Youth Club is the perfect place for teens to come together and bond with their peers while playing Xbox, cooking in their own kitchen, participating in a leadership-training program, Sunday school, cinema club, vocational assistance program, weekend camping experiences, or touring historic Jewish sites in Kiev.
JDC CEO Alan Gill noted in his remarks the importance of Halom, especially in the context of JDC’s work across Ukraine and the former Soviet Union, and below excerpts from the dedication ceremony yesterday:
“One the tremendous things we have achieved together here in Ukraine, and throughout the former Soviet Union, is the building or supporting of Jewish community centers which have become literal hubs of Jewish community life.
Across the FSU, we support dozens of JCCs, including in the major Ukrainian cities of Kharkov, Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, and Zaporozhe.
The JCC model has served a particularly unique purpose in post-Soviet society, twinning an American Jewish community concept with the cherished and esteemed cultural and intellectual acumen of Jews in this region.
So alongside Shabbat and holiday celebrations, Hebrew and Yiddish classes, early childhood frameworks, teen and youth clubs, and sports, you find classical music concerts, book clubs, and discussion salons touching on all matters of history and the arts.
Serving as a nerve center for the community, our JCCs are often packed with those who are already invested in the community, those who are helping build it, and especially those just learning about their identity.
This has helped produce a vast and miraculous grassroots Jewish culture and thousands of self-identified Jews, doing things Jewish, on their terms.
That commitment to Jewish life and the Jewish world has been paired with another one of our Jewish values: caring for the needy among us.
Today, around Ukraine, we are working together to serve tens of thousands of poor Jews, both elderly and families in need. That work, which continues today given the numerous challenges facing our community’s most vulnerable members, is critical.
Not just because their need is dire, but because it is a measure of our success in working together to create Jewish communities that can provide for those who cannot care for themselves.
The Halom JCC takes a step forward in this direction, including for the first time ever in a fully integrated concept programs for children at risk and a club for the elderly.
Because these seniors and children are as much a part of the community as all others who partake in the JCC. They are our neighbors, friends, and even our family.
Without them, community is not complete. Halom would be incomplete.

I am so very proud that we have worked to ensure their inclusion and have built here in Kiev, a city I have visited many times, another institution to secure the Jewish future in Ukraine.”

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Romania’s Bereshit Event Turns 13

“Imagine getting to meet with 400 Jews who we don’t get to see every day in a reunion that is positive and energizing,” said Luciana Friedman, President of the Jewish community in Timisoara, Romania.
“It’s a real learning experience and a unique opportunity!”
Luciana is one of hundreds of participants, representing 33 communities across Romania, who have gathered together for a multi-day celebration of Jewish culture, learning, and traditions at the 13th annual Bereshit event, serving as a special Bar Mitzvah for the seminar, in Tirgu Mures, Romania.
“This event brings Jews from across Romania for a weekend of learning and discovery. We have professors from Israel and Romania who come to teach Judaism in a way that is both interesting and accessible, and there are hundreds of people who are thirsty to learn and celebrate their Jewish identity,” said Israel Sabag, JDC director of Romania and the former Yugoslavia.
This weekend’s gathering is especially significant, as it marks 100 years of JDC’s work in Romania, including the founding of the Bereshit academic study event for the country’s Jewish community, and local Jewish Community Center (JCC) members.
At this seminar, the group is exploring the theme of tikkun olam – the Jewish concept of repairing the world – through dynamic, interactive activities highlighting Jewish values.
“It gives me an enriching opportunity to meet other members from other Jewish communities in Romania,” said another participant, Ivan Schnabel.
Attendees will also celebrate Shabbat and engage in text study and meaningful dialogue.
“This seminar is a beautiful celebration of Jewish knowledge,” said Zoya Shvartzman, part of the JDC Europe team. “This forum provides educational, spiritual, and social enrichment for a community that was shattered by the Holocaust and decades of Communism, giving individuals the opportunity to gather, engage in Jewish study and strengthen their connection to their Jewish heritage. It is a testament of the vibrancy and resilience of the Jewish community of Romania.”

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A School, a Shofar, and a Question

Penny and Claudio Pincus recently traveled to Israel and visited a school that’s part of a JDC program called “Schools With a Heart,” for which they have been providing vitally important funding.This unique endeavor is testing an approach to identify, diagnose, assist, counsel, and guide children at risk of poor performance given either social, psychological, or cognitive difficulties.Penny and Claudio visited Kadima, a primary school in Kiriat Bialik, an area of Haifa. The school was selected to be a pilot and embraced the opportunity; the major, principal, and teachers personally mobilized the city in support.
The Pincus family was given presentations on the initiative, the unique challenges encountered, and many cases of successful outcomes. Children told of their journeys and what it felt like to overcome difficulties. Teachers shared the value of the new “tool box” they received through special training and of the support from professionals provided by the JDC program. Penny and Claudio witnessed how children from different races, backgrounds, and intellectual capacities are integrated under one big roof.Below is a letter they wrote following their visit.———————Dear Children, Teachers, and Principal of Beit Sefer Kadima, Kiriat Bialik, Makom B’lev,Penny and I visited you this last September 15, and you welcomed us in your school by showing us with great pride the classrooms, the music room, and other facilities and telling us about the different programs in which you now participate. Many of you spoke in English, played the piano, sang songs, and acted out parts of a new drama. We came for two hours and stayed for more than four, and we enjoyed lunch and fruits.You gave us two presents: a collection of pictures of teachers and the community – the “Family of Makom B’lev” – and a Shofar.Since that day, I have been thinking: Why did the children select a Shofar to express your feelings?Was it because you wanted to make sure that Penny and I would fulfill the mitzvah of Lishmoah Kol Shofar (listening to the Shofar)? And the shofar sound would be a great thank you?Or was it that 100 children wished that each of the 100 shofar blasts (the number we are commanded to sound on Rosh Hashanah) would be a celebration of the accomplishment of each one, thanks to this special program and community, Makom B’lev?Or was it that 100 children wished that the 100 shofar blasts would remind us that in the next year we should think of another 100 children who are in need of help?Or was it your wish that the Tekia Gedola (the long, clear shofar blast) would be a bridge to heaven, Gesher L’shamayim, that will bring the angels to this school?The Akeida Itzjak (the story of the binding of Isaac, read at Rosh Hashanah) tell us about the past, the times of danger that existed until the Shofar, blown by the angels, announced our transformation forever as a people and individuals.Children, let me tell you. This Shofar represents the essence of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). We were all children at risk, just like you. All of us asked for help when we were in danger. And some, not many, realized that we can be the angels, hiding our faces so that you and children yet to come can sing the song of our fathers, “Kol Ha’Olam Kulo.”Kol ha’olam kuloGesher tzar me’odVeha’ikar lo lifached k’lal.The whole worldIs a very narrow bridgeand the main thing is to have no fear at all.(lyrics: Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)– Claudio and Penny Pincus, Rosh Hashanah 5777

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Haiti Update: Recovering From Hurricane Matthew

As Floridians brace for Hurricane Matthew, and our thoughts and prayers are with them, the people of Haiti are already grappling with the storm’s devastating impact.In fact, with Hurricane Matthew, Haiti — the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and one of the world’s most impoverished countries — has experienced its biggest humanitarian disaster since the 2010 earthquake.JDC, in a Jewish response to this crisis, is working with partners on the ground to deliver critical medical relief to the hardest-hit regions.When Matthew, then a Category 4 Hurricane with 145 mph winds and 50-foot waves, pummeled western Haiti, it disrupted cell communications and caused major infrastructure damage to key bridges, airports, and roads.About 500 deaths have been reported so far, with more than 300 in the hardest-hit towns and fishing villages on the southern coast in Haiti’s Sud province. Thirty thousand homes have been destroyed, with scores ofthousands losing their livelihoods; the United Nations reports that 350,000 Haitians are in need of assistance.Our medical assistance is especially critical, given severe food shortages and fears of outbreaks of water-borne diseases like cholera. That medical relief to the worst-hit areas is happening together with and through ourlongstanding partner Heart to Heart International, which has three medical teams on the ground in Sud province.A fourth medical team is being dispatched today to Fondwa, a small community village in the 10th Rural Section of Leogane in the Western Department of Haiti. JDC has a history of working in Fondwa – we built aschool and implemented livelihood projects there in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.Six years ago, JDC was on the ground in Haiti within hours of the deadly earthquake that impacted three million Haitians. Since then, JDC has provided sustenance, medical treatment, psychosocial support, jobtraining, and education for more than 400,000 among the country’s recovering population.

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Hesed and Moishe House Team Up in Minsk

Residents of the Moishe House in Minsk recently partnered with JDC’s Hesed social welfare center in the Belarusian capital city for a special Shabbat event.
To get a taste of the event, we checked in with 80-year-old Vera to see what made it so extraordinary.
“Today, Shabbat was special for me. That’s for sure! I visit all the Shabbats events, in any weather and any time of year,” she said. “It’s so nice to spend time with the younger generation, who honor the traditions.”
We asked Moishe House Minsk resident Tanya Shteinbuk how “Shabbat with Hesed” came together.
Q: What was the spark of inspiration for this event?
A: The coordinator of the Jewish volunteer movement here in Minsk floated the idea to us. Young people here had never spent Shabbat with Hesed before. We thought it was a great idea and a chance for a “celebration” — for us and for the elderly.
Q: What was the most powerful part of the event?
A; “Shabbat with Hesed” is rather different from all the Shabbat events we’ve held earlier. The atmosphere was very warm and sincere, and there were more than 30 people. All the prayers were accompanied by music; our Eugene played along on guitar. It was really very touching and exciting. After the blessing over the challah, some of the elderly sang songs and read poems, too.
Q: Why is it important to have events with the elderly?
A: It is very important to gain experience, which the elderly have. We have a lot to learn from them. They are the storehouses of knowledge and traditions. We appreciate spending time together with the older generation.
Q: How have Moishe House and JDC impacted your Jewish identity?

A: Moishe House and JDC give me the opportunity to get to know new people. Each person has their own history, knowledge, and Jewish values. Talking with them, I ask them questions, and I ask myself a lot of questions. Moishe House and JDC’s activities and programs are very multifaceted, it allows us to approach the issue of studying Jewish history and culture from different sides.

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JDC in a Changing World

The following is a speech given by Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein at a JDC Schiff Society meeting on September 26, 2016.
It is a tremendous honor to be with you this evening and a special joy to again have the opportunity to personally salute you who are involved in and support JDC. I’ve said before but it is never sufficient enough to thank you for your furthering the mandate of one of the great heroic organizations of Jewish life. I have seen your work in action around much of this world and continue to marvel at the outreach and goodness emanating from the firmest of Jewish values as they are embodied in this organization. I especially thank Phyllis Hattis Rubin for hosting us and Rebecca Neuwirth for her tenacity in getting me here. I also want to recognize though he could not be here this evening your new CEO-designate David Schizer. He is brilliant, eminently decent and wise, and devoted to the best of Jewish life. I congratulate both David and you for your decision to move on together.
The topic for our conversation this evening is JDC in a Changing World and, of course, the world is changing, but as always the Jewish world is evolving at a faster pace. Let’s be clear that every generation tends to look at the one that comes after it with suspicion if not disapproval. And this young generation in the Jewish community, by whatever name you call it (millennial/self-reliant/odyssey/misunderstood), is fundamentally different from mine or even from the generations between me and those who are in the twenties and thirties.
In short form this we know:

So what does this mean for JDC and its future?
Here’s the nub of it in the plainest language I can use. This generation is searching for meaning: personal meaning and meaning in being a Jew. David Brooks asserts that they “want less stuff and more community.” They are globalist, socially responsible, and hopeful. Therefore I passionately believe that everything JDC is doing and the changes it is making can be a vehicle and motivator for, and an instigator of “meaning”, meaning as a Jew and as a human being.
The next generation will no longer tolerate past glib answers to serious questions. They are searching and want to know why we care at all about Jewish survival and Jewish life whether for themselves or for their offspring? And at its core, JDC says that we Jews are a global people that reach beyond our walls and beyond ourselves. You are on the ground and fully hands on wherever needed. Therefore JDC can declare with full integrity that if a person wants to be part of something that suspends xenophobia and isolation and allows you to go to bed at night with the comfort of knowing that are finding meaning for yourself in making a difference in healing this world then come with us, join us, support and believe in us because that’s exactly what we’re doing.
As an organization you stand outside denominational affiliation, institutional self-service and communal segmentation that marks too much of the Jewish world and you believe that “Joint” means just that… we are all in this jointly together.
From my perspective JDC is intent on sustaining an ongoing relationship with our history and with our mission because now more than ever you know that business as usual is not OK, “good enough” is just not good enough and playing it safe no longer guarantees our safety.
Therefore you, JDC, should rightly feel compelled to do what Jews are supposed to do: to care about others who are not Jewish even if they might not have concern for us if the tables were turned. You also stand with Jews in Europe against the invidious tide of anti-Semitism and you provide shoulders for Jewish girls in Tunisia to lean on.
Additionally, you have a special concern for what is happening in Israel? And why? My answer as I said at your plenary four years ago is because no matter what our feelings about the policies of Israel’s government, it is your mission to empower the future of all Israelis, to be with them in the midst of their celebrations and to be with them to share their heartache; to care for their immigrants and other children and youth at risk, and as you say “to develop visionary solutions to meet the needs of all disadvantaged in Israeli society.”
You, JDC, have an ineffable but powerful message to take to Jews throughout this world: that we Jews passionately recommit ourselves to the ongoing and miraculous venture of Jewish life. Launched as we were into human history we Jews have a mission and a purpose. So it must be with passion, courage and especially with the incredible energy that is the hallmark of this organization that you lead us forward. The answer to the question “why should we survive” is the fundamental truth of this organization. The reason we need survive is because we are a unique global people caring for our own and for others. That is the most perfectly reliable recipe and direction for finding meaning in our lives, meaning as Jews, as citizens of this world and as an integral part of humanity.

So I hope you get on with it and wish you well in that venture.

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How a Small Initiative Became a Lifeline for Refugees

photo: Photo Credit: Info Park

I’m walking around Belgrade, it’s the summer of 2016, and a global humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding before my eyes.
You cannot get more central than Belgrade, the capital of Serbia – at the very heart of Europe — where the Danube meets the Sava River. Picture perfect. In Belgrade, refugees are not a new concept. As a country that sits in an often war-torn region, Belgrade has seen its fair share of refugees over the years. Still, what you see today when you walk around the streets of Belgrade is unprecedented. Thousands of refugees from the Middle East made their way through what is known as the Balkan corridor (the passage from Greece to FYR Macedonia and Bulgaria), and they are flooding the streets of the city. They’re crossing seas and borders on their way to a “promised land.”
It breaks your heart just to look at their faces. Most are confused from the entire border crossing. Some don’t even know where they are, thinking they are already in Germany when in reality they are in a park many, many miles away. There are women looking for husbands who left them behind. Everyone is exhausted. Some are even beginning to doubt their decision to leave their war-ravaged homes.
Most refugees only have the clothes on their back. If they are really lucky, they might also have a cellphone and a bit of cash. Many of them have found shelter at the local park in Belgrade that sits adjacent to the bus station. Standing here, I can honestly say it is the last place anyone would want to end up.
It is disheartening to see so many families with children trying to escape the boiling sun and find food, water, shelter, electricity and WiFi. For these families, and the other refugees in the park, Belgrade was supposed to be a pit stop on their way to Germany and north Europe. But now they are stuck there. Downtown is overflowing with families, small children, and single men using every space, roof, tree, and parking spot as shelter. Sanitation and health are at a minimum.
Enter Info Park, a pop-up grassroots initiative that provides information and free public WiFi access. Marija Mirtovic and Gordan Paunovic, two local activists from Fund B92 and the Trag Foundation, could no longer bear to cross the park, witness the heart-wrenching scene there, and remain silent. In a small hut, in the heart of the park, and with only the support of its staff and volunteers, Info Park now distributes about 300 to 400 warm meals three times a day, every day. They also provide other vital services, particularly to babies and children. Right now, Info Park is essentially the only distribution point for refugees to obtain food and basic necessities while the borders are closed.
What started with basic seed funding has now become the main lifeline for hundreds of refugees.
“The situation is changing dramatically,” Marija tells me. “The camp near Belgrade, Krnjaca, can normally host a maximum of 600 people. Currently, it houses more than a thousand refugees; all of a sudden, we had more than 850 people for lunch. It was quite intense, as we had to quickly secure more meals. We somehow managed but we’re worried about what will happen next, especially since the numbers are again on the rise.”
I meet Wael, a refugee from Syria who arrived in Belgrade last year and is still there. Wael is a survivor. A recipient of Info Park services, Wael became one of the project’s volunteers, there almost every day to help with the food distribution. The terrible circumstances he survived empowered him to step up and become an active leader in the park. When I visited the park, the food line was so long that many men began to fear supplies would run out before they could be served. Out of fear and hunger, people began pushing each other. It got pretty ugly. Wael immediately jumped in to diffuse the situation. He promised everyone they would all be served and, luckily, he was right. Wael’s asylum status is hopefully being processed. He recently entered the UNHCR reallocation program and is hopefully headed to a new life in Canada. Who knows how long it will take for him to get there. Still, he’s one of the lucky ones.
“We are not optimistic,” Marija says, “but we have no other choice. We must help them.”
That night, after I left the park, I felt oddly embarrassed as I sat down to dinner at a nice place on the Danube or as I went back to my hotel room to shower. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors who were refugees in Europe and were lucky enough to escape to Israel when the war started, I was humbled by my experience at Info Park. It reminded me how lucky I am not just to have access to basic life-sustaining supplies — such as food, clean water and shelter — but also how lucky I am to work for a Jewish organization, which chairs a Jewish coalition, that gives a global Jewish response to a refugee crisis like this.
At the end of the day, I was very encouraged and inspired by the people I met and by the volunteers I spent the day with. Serbia might be a small place in Europe, and it’s probably even seen as a negligible player in this humanitarian disaster. But its people have a big heart.
The Jewish Coalition for Syrian Refugees, a sub coalition of the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, is also working in partnership with Israeli-based NATAN, and together with B92 and Trag that have been running Info Park, to provide the much-needed psychosocial support to the refugees, primarily in the capital Belgrade.

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