Despite an ongoing crisis in Ukraine, exacerbated today by growing humanitarian needs, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and Jews around Ukraine will celebrate the festive Jewish holiday of Purim on March 5th with a series of events across the country, including in cities in and near the conflict zone. For Jews who are displaced or those remaining in separatist controlled areas, Purim — which recalls Jewish deliverance from a genocidal plot in ancient Persia — will be marked by synagogue services, concerts, and other special holiday gatherings at JDC-supported Jewish community and social welfare centers. Additionally, JDC and its local volunteers will deliver gift packages — called — to homebound elderly and displaced Jewish families, as is the holiday custom.

‘This Purim, we are working hard to fulfill the holiday precept to celebrate with unrestrained joy, especially by providing a much needed respite for the thousands of displaced Jews and those in separatist controlled regions who are severely impacted by economic and political instability,’ said Michal Frank, JDC’s Former Soviet Union Regional Director.

Purim events and gift package delivery — including the holding of humorous Purimspeils (traditional holiday parody plays) — are due to take place throughout Ukraine, with a special focus in eastern cities like Donetsk, Lugansk, Dnepropetrovsk, Khakrov, Artemivsk, and Krasnaormiisk. For the 2,500 displaced Jews JDC is caring for, these Purim events connect them to local Jewish communities where they are making new homes. At these events, children and adults will dress up in costume — one of the holiday’s most beloved traditions — partake in hamantashen (triangular-shaped cookies with poppyseed or fruit filling) and enjoy the festive atmosphere even amid the challenges they, like the rest of their neighbors in Ukraine, face.

Since the crisis began, JDC has deployed emergency services assisting thousands of Jews caught up in the conflict, including: extra food, medicine, and medical care; crisis-related home repairs; extra winter items such as warm bedding, clothing, utility stipends, and space heaters; and a full aid package and emergency housing for displaced Jews. As the crisis has worsened, 2,700 people have been added to JDC’s aid rolls, many who never needed JDC assistance in the past. These include working or middle class Jewish families who find themselves struggling with conflict-related unemployment and general economic distress related to spiking prices on basic goods and utilities, the collapsing local currency, and widespread devastation to property and industry.

JDC’s work in Ukraine is undertaken in cooperation with the local Jewish community and groups like Chabad. JDC’s work is generously support by its Board, individual donors and foundations, and our esteemed partners, including Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Jewish Federations of North America, World Jewish Relief, and the Conference on Jewish Materials Claims Against Germany.

Today, JDC has four major offices and operates and supports a network of 32 Hesed social welfare centers serving more than 70,000 Jews in need in more than 1,000 locations across Ukraine. JDC’s long history of working with Ukrainian Jews includes its work with the American Relief Administration in 1921 to administer an aid program for Ukrainians impacted by war and famine, including the Jewish community. Additionally, Agro-Joint, established in 1924, created Jewish agricultural colonies and industrial schools in Ukraine and Crimea.