In Germany, Volunteering for Ukraine

Kharkov, Ukraine, is more than 1,100 miles from Berlin, but on November 16, the German Jewish community will celebrate the shared bonds of the global Jewish people through its participation in the international Mitzvah Day initiative.

November 12, 2014

Kharkov, Ukraine, is more than 1,100 miles from Berlin, but on November 16, the German Jewish community will celebrate the shared bonds of the global Jewish people through its participation in the international Mitzvah Day initiative.

Started in the United Kingdom in 2008, the project has grown into a global movement of change, encouraging people around the world to join together for hands-on community service and social action. Mitzvah Day now touches 20 countries, reaching more than 35,000 people each year.

In Germany, JDC’s Bambinim Center for children and young adults will spearhead a drive to collect Chanukah toys and supplies for needy Jews and internally displaced people in Ukraine, a project organized in conjunction with JDC’s Hesed social welfare center in Kharkov.

‘It’s all part of the idea of tikkun olam,’ said Lili Furman, JDC’s representative in Germany, referring to the Jewish concept of repairing the world. ‘We want to give back from the blessings we are enjoying. We are conscious that a lot of people are suffering at this time.’

In Germany, the Mitzvah Day initiative is more broadly being organized under the auspices of The Central Council of the Jews in Germany. The Bambinim project is being coordinated by Anja Olejnik, the center’s director, Avishag Weidner, and Liora Jaffe, a senior fellow in Berlin.

The Bambinim group is expected to number about 20 to 25 families, or 60 to 70 people. They will be creating Hanukkah gift baskets for Ukrainian Jewish children, filled with picture books, puzzles, wooden toys, and more.

Though the crisis in Ukraine lends this Mitzvah Day special urgency for the German Jewish community, this is not the first time the Berlin group has participated in the global initiative. Last year, the community partnered with a Masorti congregation, the Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue, to renovate and paint a room for children at a local center for refugees new to Germany.

Furman said the Mitzvah Day event is an exciting chance for the German Jewish community to connect with their peers in Ukraine. She’s also hoping to bring in a speaker who can offer a Jewish perspective on the ongoing conflict there

‘I want to generate some awareness about the crisis in Ukraine because although the issue appears in the media, for people here in Germany without a personal connection to Ukraine, the importance can seem less clear,’ she said.

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