Seven months since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is ensuring that thousands of Ukrainian Jews, including internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees in bordering countries, can celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The global Jewish humanitarian organization is organizing hundreds of special holiday events and cultural offerings, as well as distributing holiday aid packages of food and traditional holiday items like apples and honey to thousands of poor, elderly Jews. This annual tradition across the former Soviet Union (FSU) is made possible by JDC through its partners: the Jewish Federations, Claims Conference, and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
“As we prepare to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, our extended Ukrainian Jewish family is at the heart of our prayers for a sweet and peaceful New Year. Through the aid packages we will deliver, and the hundreds of festive events we will hold, we are not just saving lives, but affirming life for the coming year and future generations,” said JDC CEO Ariel Zwang. “These blessings of care and community are central to our crisis response and guide our unflagging commitment to Ukrainian Jews and Jewish communities, in both good times and bad.”
As JDC leverages its long-standing and vast care network and partnerships with local Jewish communities in Ukraine, Poland, and Moldova, Ukrainian Jews will have access to hundreds of JDC-sponsored virtual and in-person events before and during Rosh Hashanah, which begins on the night of September 25th. This network – including Hesed social service centers, Jewish Community Centers, and legions of local Jewish community volunteers – has also been central to JDC’s crisis response, which today supports more than 35,000 needy Jews in Ukraine and more than 4,000 Jewish refugees in Europe.
In the Ukrainian cities of Poltava, Kharkiv, Ternopil, and Kyiv, internally displaced Jewish families will be treated to special Rosh Hashanah festivities, concerts, lectures, and excursions, along with members of the wider local communities. Odesa’s elderly Jews will have the opportunity to tune into online concerts performed by local children, while in Mykolayiv, participants of Active Jewish Teens (AJT), JDC’s youth network powered in partnership with Genesis Philanthropy Group (GPG) and BBYO, will partake in a special “Torah Party.” Meanwhile, the community of Sumy, Ukraine will host a series of festive meals for its members of all ages.
Special holiday programming will also be offered to those Ukrainian refugees who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah in Europe, providing them a sense of joy, normalcy, and community during this especially turbulent time. In Warsaw, in addition to a Rosh Hashanah dinner, refugees will attend a cooking class where they will learn to make a traditional apple tart, and a ceramic class to make honey pots. Meanwhile, Jewish refugees and community members in Kishinev, Moldova, will have the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with culinary classes tailored for children, teens, and families, and special in-person and virtual lecture opportunities for elderly community members.
The majority of Ukraine’s vibrant 200,000 person Jewish community remained in the country throughout the conflict, with many returning after fleeing to neighboring countries. JDC, which has worked in Ukraine and across the former Soviet Union since the 1990’s, cares for tens of thousands of needy Jewish elderly and poor families, builds Jewish community life, and trains new generations of Jewish leaders. JDC has leveraged this experience to deploy a full-scale emergency response effort to the current crisis that’s provided more than 600 tons of humanitarian aid and provided life-saving services to tens of thousands of people in Ukraine and refugees in border countries.