JDC Responds: Team in Kathmandu, Packing Aid Supplies in NY
After a day on the ground in Nepal, JDC’s veteran disaster response expert and emergency field medic Mike Attinson said he’s struck by the devastation in the city.
“The damage in Kathmandu is visible – to temples, to the tourist areas. The cultural heritage has been destroyed. People are still sleeping outside, still afraid to go into their homes. They’re still apprehensive,” he said. “The poorer sections of the city were hit worse.”
Attinson flew into Nepal with fellow aid workers on what he described as “the airborne UN,” reflecting the dozens of relief workers, government emissaries, and NGO specialists aboard his flight.
Attinson said a visit to JDC’s partners at the IDF field hospital was particularly powerful. JDC helped facilitate the delivery of two critically needed neonatal incubators, and is concurrently working with the Afya Foundation in Yonkers, NY, to pack and ship humanitarian and medical supplies to a Kathmandu hospital. This shipment is being coordinated through the Nepalese Consulate in New York City.
“While the utter devastation and loss of life in Nepal is unimaginable, the needs of injured and displaced are growing and our shipment of supplies will be critical to their survival in the coming weeks,” said Danielle Butin, Director of Afya, which is readying the first shipment of 20 pallets (or 25,000-32,000 pounds) of supplies with help from JDC staff volunteers. “Together with JDC, we have addressed these needs in previous disasters and have been heartened by the public’s response to our call for donations for those hard-hit in Nepal.”
Eileen Donovan, who has been volunteering with Afya since Hurricane Sandy, said the packages, containing medical supplies like Tylenol and aspirin, will help victims of the earthquake recover.
“There’s people without homes. There’s people with a lot of injuries. They’re living out in tents, and they’re petrified,” said Donovan, a retired nurse. “I just hope the help gets to the people that need it.”
Later this week, Attinson and the JDC disaster response team will visit some of the remote towns and villages hardest-hit by the April 25 earthquake, which impacted eight million people and killed more than 5,000.
“What is certainly needed in the outlying villages is activities for their kids, temporary schools, temporary community centers,” he said. “These people lost everything. They lost their homes. They’re in a state of PTSD, a state of shock.”
For more information on JDC’s disaster response, and to donate to the relief effort in Nepal, visit
JDC Joins World Bank’s Faith2EndPoverty Initiative
JDC joins the World Bank and the faith community to end poverty by 2030.
The pledge, Ending Extreme Poverty: A Moral and Spiritual Imperative, is the result of a process led by the World Bank and announced at its spring meetings in April 2015. It outlines a common understanding that all faith leaders can agree to, and specifically recognises the role and responsibility of faith communities in ending poverty. More than 30 organizations have signed on.
“We have ample evidence from the World Bank Group and others showing that we can now end extreme poverty within fifteen years,” the Moral Imperative statement notes. “In 2015, our governments will be deciding upon a new global sustainable development agenda that has the potential to build on our shared values to finish the urgent task of ending extreme poverty.”
“We in the faith community embrace this moral imperative because we share the belief that the moral test of our society is how the weakest and most vulnerable are faring,” it continues. “Our sacred texts also call us to combat injustice and uplift the poorest in our midst.”
We at JDC are honored to answer the call and join this incredible collection of faith leaders. Together, we can end extreme poverty.
Celebrating Transformative Educational Seminars in Romania
They gathered together at the Great Synagogue of Bucharest, 350 Jews from 31 communities around Romania braving slush and rain to pay tribute to the 10th session of Bereshit, a JDC-sponsored weekend of Jewish learning and text study.
Though this year’s event was held in the capital city, years of staging the seminar in various communities around Romania created a strong and powerful Bereshit community – “Bereshit-branded friendships and inside jokes, full of heartwarming stories and history.”
The first plenary session was conducted by Rabbi Joseph Schonwald of the Rochlin Foundation, commanding an audience spilling out of the Choral Temple sanctuary. He spoke about Jewish identity and anti-Semitism, togetherness, and resilience. The first day’s program concluded with a dinner party in the synagogue, with Bucharest’s klezmer band playing popular Jewish tunes for an enthusiastic congregation.
But Bereshit isn’t just about the party – it’s about in-depth Jewish learning that is the foundation of Jewish tradition, and which for four decades was denied to Romania’s Jewish community. Bereshit educates local Jewish leaders and community members in the fundamentals of Judaism, including Torah and oral tradition. The initiative provides a pluralistic solution for Jewish adults seeking access to Jewish educational resources, values, and personalities, offering courses taught by renowned Jewish Studies professors from Israel and Europe.
On Friday, professors lectured on five different topics, discussing Moses, religion, science, kabbalah, and even Carlebach to an audience thirsty for knowledge. Though the lecturers are all volunteers, their performance is engrossing and professional. For the 10th anniversary celebration, the featured speakers were selected by a vote of attendees’ favorite lecturers from previous Bereshit learning fests.
Bereshit is coordinated by JDC, in collaboration with the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania, the Bucharest JCC, and the Jewish community of Bucharest.
Bereshit celebrated its birthday with a bang, and as is the seminar’s tradition, save-the-date fliers for the next session were distributed before attendees left town. The 11th installment of this landmark learning experience for the Romanian Jewish community will take place in Constanta, September 17-20, bringing this meaningful program to the shores of the Black Sea.
Keeping Passover Spirit Alive in Ukraine
Against the backdrop of a crippling humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, JDC is ensuring that Passover continues uninterrupted for thousands of Jews at Hesed social welfare centers and JDC-supported Jewish Community Center on both sides of the ceasefire line throughout Ukraine.
Our volunteers and staff are holding a variety of Passover-related activities – from Seder feasts to matzah baking and Passover cooking workshops – and delivering nearly 48,000 free packages of matzah to needy Ukrainian Jews.
“As we engage in our annual Passover activities around Ukraine this year, we are reminded of the holiday’s timeless message of deliverance and our duty to ensure a small taste of hope and joy to those facing despair and an uncertain future,” said Michal Frank, Director of JDC’s Former Soviet Union operation.
In Donetsk and Lugansk, cities severely damaged during fighting and now under separatist control, JDC is holding matzah-baking classes for children, Seders (the traditional Passover feast) for the elderly, and workshops on Passover foods and customs.
In Mariupol, a rocket-stricken city just outside the rebel-held area, children will make matzah and a special women’s Seder will be conducted. Similar events will take place in Zaporozhie, Artyomovsk, Kramatorsk, and Krovoy Rog.
Away from the frontlines, thousands of Jews – including hundreds of displaced Jews making new homes away from the separatist-controlled east – will also attend Passover activities.
In Kiev, Kharkov, and Odessa, Seders for the elderly will be held at “Warm Homes” – apartments or other facilities where groups of seniors gather together to socialize, engage in cultural activities, and celebrate holidays. Kiev’s Beiteinu Center will include families at risk and displaced Jews in a special Passover picnic.
In Dnepropetrovsk, a special “Pesach University” is being organized to teach young people how to conduct a Seder.
And in Odessa, Passover cooking classes with be part of Seder activities at the Beit Grand JCC while in other cities in the region – Nikolayev, Kherson, and Kirovograd – visits by young volunteers to isolated elderly and the displaced will be part of communitywide festivities.
Since the crisis in Ukraine 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 our aid rolls, many who never needed JDC assistance in the past. These include working or middle class Jewish families now struggling with conflict-related unemployment and general economic distress.
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. Our long history of assisting Ukrainian Jews includes working 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.
JDC’s work in Ukraine is undertaken in cooperation with the local Jewish community and groups like Chabad, and is made possible by our Board members; individual donors and foundations; and our partners, including Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Jewish Federations, World Jewish Relief, and the Conference on Jewish Materials Claims Against Germany.
Q&A: Masha Shumatskaya
When the daily shelling began to be too much to bear last June, 23-year-old Masha Shumatskaya packed up her belongings and left her hometown of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine for the safety of Kharkov.
Since then, she’s become one of 2,500 internally displaced Jews aided by JDC after they fled fierce fighting between government and separatist forces. Today, JDC also continues to serve thousands of needy Jews in the separatist-controlled regions as well.
In response, JDC has deployed emergency services assisting 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, emergency housing, and post-trauma care for displaced Jews — including Masha.
To raise awareness to the situation in Ukraine, JDC invited Masha on a two-week speaking tour of North America this month addressing Jewish audiences in Vancouver, Seattle, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York.
Masha sat down with JDC at its headquarters in New York City for a QandA elaborating on her Jewish identity, hopes and fears for the future, and the current situation in Ukraine.
Can you tell me a bit about your Jewish background?
My ancestors were rabbis, but my grandparents weren’t connected at all. It was also impossible during Soviet times. Nonetheless, others around them never let them forget their Jewishness. My mother put me in the Number 99 Jewish School in Donetsk because it was convenient, had a school bus, free breakfast and lunch, and great teachers. There, I received a Jewish education, learned subjects in Hebrew, and got really involved in Jewish life – I even took part in the International Bible Contest in Israel representing Ukraine and I still keep kosher.
How did you become involved with JDC?
When I was 17 there was an annual program for young leaders from all over Ukraine organized by JDC called Metsuda. They said it might be a good fit for me, and they were right. I learned the value of teamwork and met some of my best friends there. Perhaps the best thing was the network of mentors and colleagues that I gained. We still gather about once a year and discuss ways we can help out our communities. Some even have successful businesses – despite the crisis – and can give back.
What was it like living in Donetsk during the conflict?
It started with demonstrations by unarmed people. When they took over the government building it didn’t seem unordinary or revolutionary. I saw that and told my boyfriend, ‘Maybe that’s what democracy is about.’ He said, ‘This is a bad thing.’ I only realized how severe the situation was when the barricades went up and some people started wearing masks and carrying guns. By the end of May they started shelling the airport and we had to leave. We lost our jobs and there was no reason for us to stay. We thought we would be back by September – nobody thought it would be more than a few months – so we moved to Kharkov. We stayed with friends until eventually we found an apartment.
How were you received on your tour of North America?
It was great because I came to people who realized I was a war refugee but didn’t realize the size of the catastrophe. I was treated as a member of the family, and showered with love. They were grateful I came, and I thanked those I met, those who supported us and my mother. Thanks to their donations to JDC we received food packages and financial help to rent our apartment for a few months. It was an honor to be an ambassador for all the Jews in need in Ukraine.
What does the future hold for you?
I have no idea – it depends on so many things. The thing that worries me the most is whether the war will come to Kharkov or not. If it does, I’ll be displaced a second time – not something I’d like to happen. In that case, I might have to think of other countries to live in. It might be Israel, or it might be another where I can find work as an English teacher or another specialist job. I had a lot of plans a year ago. Because of what happened, they changed completely.
In Donetsk Under Fire, Caring For Those Who Remain
On a recent morning, Sophia, one of JDC’s Hesed social welfare caretakers from Donetsk, was visiting a 97-year-old client of hers near the center of the eastern Ukrainian city when a massive explosion shook the building.
Running outside, Sophia saw a nearby trolley bus had sustained a direct hit from a mortar shell, killing 13 people and wounding 20 others. Body parts lay scattered across the street as the sounds of screams and sirens filled the air.
Shaken, she resumed her daily duties: cleaning her client, cooking breakfast, and after making sure she was OK, going to her next appointment.
“I understand I can be killed or injured, but I try not to think about it,” she said of her work, which takes her to some of the most dangerous parts of the war-torn city. “I just run and pray. So far it’s worked.”
Since violence erupted in Ukraine last year, many caretakers and volunteers working for JDC’s Hesed social welfare center network like Sophia have risked their lives treating thousands of homebound and frail elderly around Ukraine. In eastern Ukraine today, JDC and the staff of the Hesed network is caring for more than 4,500 Jews who remain. Some have ridden bicycles through active war zones. Others traversed their way past gunmen manning barricades and checkpoints. Though their work saves the lives of countless people, the heroism of these men and women goes largely unsung.
“The dangers facing many caretakers and volunteers working in eastern Ukraine are extreme,” said JDC’s Former Soviet Union Director Michal Frank. “They provide our clients with essential food, medicine, and other necessities. Without their visits, people would die. They are true heroes and deserve to be recognized for their courage.”
Sophia — who had previously been employed by the Tochmash factory — began her career as a caretaker 15 years ago when clients of the kiosk she was working for told her about JDC’s local Hesed. She successfully applied for a position and her life has never been the same.
“Caring for these people gives me strength and courage,” said the 66-year-old, who lives alone and has no children. “They need me, and that makes my life worthwhile.”
Her job is difficult and demanding during peaceful times: cleaning, scrubbing, cooking, carrying goods, taking care of elderly and needy individuals who have often been neglected or abandoned. Since fighting broke out, another, potentially deadly element of difficulty has been added.
Mark, an 83-year-old client of Sophia’s, lives in the neighborhood closest to the Donetsk airport.
Over the past few months, the once-shimmering facility that reopened in 2012 for a soccer tournament has been reduced to rubble as government and rebel forces have battled over it bitterly.
Reaching Mark’s home requires traveling to the least safe part of town where gunfire and shelling are a constant. He has no gas, water, or electricity. His phone is cut off and the only way to get there is by foot. Sophia carries all of Mark’s food and medicine herself. When incoming rounds are heard, as they so often are, Mark and Sophia take cover in his basement. Sophia has had to spend three nights there because of gunfire outside.
“If not for me, who will come and help?” she said. “When I remember his eyes and arms, I feel for him. It’s as though he were a child of mine, who needs caring for.”
Earlier this month, Sophia was the sole person to visit an 86-year-old client who lives in a dangerous part of town by the train station on her birthday. They had tea and spoke about happier times. Sophia has even allowed for a client whose apartment is not safe to move in with her.
“During the shelling we support each other so we aren’t as scared,” she said.
with our real-time crisis response in Ukraine.
In Eastern Ukraine, Fostering Hope
As Ukraine’s crisis continues, marked this past weekend by dozens of deaths in the Sea of Azov coast city of Mariupol, JDC doubled down on its efforts to care for the most vulnerable Jews still living in the conflict-laden eastern part of the country.As indiscriminate artillery fire slammed into a market, schools, homes, and shops in the city, JDC’s local Hesed social welfare center, in cooperation with JDC’s office in Dnepropetrovsk, engaged in round-the-clock monitoring of the nearly 600 Jews it aids in the city as well as the general Jewish population. Among the poor elderly and families JDC cares for, homecare, medicine, and food services continue uninterrupted, and new needs that have emerged after the weekend attack are being addressed.As an example, JDC will repair the windows of clients’ homes that were knocked out by the blasts. Additionally, JDC is monitoring shrinking food and pharmacy supplies to ensure clients do not go without these critical supplies.”As we aggressively ensure the neediest Jews of eastern Ukraine have a lifeline at this time of ongoing conflict, we are also providing a critically important source of comfort and hope to those who often feel forgotten and scared,” said Michal Frank, JDC’s Former Soviet Union Director. “This message of Jewish unity, and action, is needed now more than ever as winter rages and the end of the crisis is nowhere in sight.”In the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, the conflict has led to scarce supplies, halted pensions, and other hardships for the elderly, impoverished, and people with disabilities living in pervasive fear.JDC’s Hesed social welfare center in Donetsk is ensuring that food, medication, and home care are provided, even when locals have difficulty traveling around the city due to sporadic explosions and weapon fire. JDC’s Winter Relief program, now in its 23rd year, is in full swing with blankets, warm winter clothes, and electrical heaters being distributed among more than 1,500 Jews in need in the region.In Lugansk, where roads into the rest of Ukraine have been closed, JDC’s Hesed social welfare center continues its work and clients there are getting the nutritional, medical, and homecare services they desperately need. With more than 1,700 benefitting from the Winter Relief program, JDC is working hard to keep these needy Jews warm, even as they brave war and winter.Another feature of the conflict is the growing numbers of Jews applying for services through JDC’s Hesed social welfare network in the region. Nearly 2,000 people, from the Donetsk and Lugansk areas alone, where JDC serves more than 100 locations, have been added to the system in the last four months.”We stand at the ready to aid the new numbers of Jews seeking help and have been working tirelessly to ensure that they can survive this difficult time. Whether they remain in the east, or join the hundreds of thousands of others who have fled the conflict zone, JDC will be there for them,” Frank said.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 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.
Nous Sommes Juifs
JDC stands together with the hundreds of thousands of people, including world leaders, who gathered in Paris to stand up to terror and demonstrate their solidarity with the French people — and mourns the loss of all those who were murdered in cold blood by the terrorists.
Our thoughts and prayers especially go out to the families of Yoav Hattab, Yohan Cohen, Philippe Braham, and Francois-Michel Saada, viciously killed in the Hyper Cacher supermarket in an act of anti-Semitic violence. May their memories be a blessing.
Today — as a Jewish organization with a proud century of history assisting, empowering and where necessary rescuing our fellow Jews in need and danger wherever in the world they might be — we proudly stand with the Jewish community of France and the French people — in an expression of kol yisrael arevim zeh la’zeh.
Nous Sommes Juifs.
We’re also taking concrete measures at a time of even more heightened concern for the global Jewish community:
We also take to heart the incredible outpouring of support — from world leaders as well as millions of ordinary Parisians — who are determined to fight for a robust, tolerant, multi-ethnic, democratic, and free Europe.
The reality is that today’s Europe is home to hundreds of thousands of Jews and our role remains using all our skills and expertise to enable them to build strong, robust, self sustaining communities where they and their families can lead full Jewish lives in freedom and security in whatever way they choose.
We will continue to keep you updated on JDC’s efforts in the coming days. We pray for better times ahead.
In Moving Memoir, Connection to JDC
Carol Jean Delmar has written the recently published Serenade, a moving memoir of her parents’ love story and their journey from Vienna and Prague to Cuba and the United States as they fled the Nazis. Her father was an opera singer and his musical talent kept him and the author’s mother one step ahead of the restrictions and violence against European Jews. Ms. Delmar relied on her father’s taped account as well as diligent research and travel to relate her parents’ struggles and triumphs as refugees. The book contains detailed documentation of passports and letters, photos, and extensive musical references, but reads more like a novel than a typical work of non-fiction.
Ms. Delmar’s book contains several mentions of JDC and HIAS. To learn more about Triscornia, the camp that detained her parents when they arrived in Havana in February, 1939, the author traveled to Cuba. She met Maritza Corrales, a Cuban historian and writer who had secured a document about Triscornia from JDC. After visiting the former site and using details from the JDC document, Ms. Delmar described the camp’s deplorable conditions: “Many people had amoebic dysentery and what was described as ‘seasonal grippe.’ There were cases of whooping cough, jaundice, and incidences of heart problems. There were bedbugs and lice. The Joint Relief Committee was sending one thousand oranges and one thousand bananas or pineapples to Triscornia each day, and eggs, sardines, milk, and butter. The organization was also providing valuable medication to the sick.”
While they were at Triscornia, Ms. Delmar’s parents met with a representative from HIAS. He explained what it would take to get them out of the camp. They had to leave a thousand-dollar security deposit with the Cuban government, which would be returned to them when they left Cuba. According to Ms. Delmar, this was the way the Cubans ensured that the refugees would not remain in Cuba. Cuba soon established strict new immigration laws and there was a massive demonstration of 40,000 Cubans against Jewish immigration. The protesters feared that immigrants would take the limited jobs that were available in Cuba.
On May 27, 1939, while the author’s parents were still in Cuba, a ship called the Saint Louis arrived in Havana’s port and was turned away. It contained 900 European refugees who had boarded in Hamburg. The ship’s captain and representatives from the JDC and the Joint Relief Committee in Havana held negotiations with Cuba’s President Bru, but he refused to let the passengers disembark. The ship returned to Europe.
After their release from Triscornia, Ms. Delmar’s parents lived for several months in Havana in a rented apartment until they received American visas. When the visas came through, the couple travelled to New York and stayed there for about a year. HIAS helped them to relocate to Knoxville, Tennessee in February, 1941. The organization paid for moving expenses “and then some” to help the couple resettle. Ms. Delmar’s father planned to teach singing there because he lost his voice in Havana due to the trauma of being forced to leave his homeland, climate changes, and allergies. When they arrived in Knoxville, HIAS had a Jewish couple meet them at the train. The couple found them an apartment and loaned them furniture.
In her chapter notes, Ms. Delmar explains her references to HIAS: “That is the organization that was so invaluable to my parents. It is the organization they always felt indebted to. However, I have read articles and documents that show the incredible efforts made by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Relief Committee. So I must mention them all here with my gratitude.”
Ms. Delmar’s father went on to become an award-winning costumer, designer and studio executive in Hollywood on such films and television series as Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments and The Untouchables starring Robert Stack. Her parents rose above their Holocaust losses to live the American dream.
Ms. Delmar’s book is available for purchase at http://www.serenadethememoir.com/.
Dispatch from Odessa: Winter is Coming
Every Chanukah for the past two decades, a giant menorah has lit up the central square of the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, bringing a little festive cheer to Jewish and non-Jewish locals during the long winter nights.
But this year’s holiday season may be a bit dimmer. Ukraine’s ongoing crisis has made the price of food, medicine, and utilities sky high while the conflict in the east has displaced large and growing numbers of people.
With planned power outages and the mandated lowering of thermostats to a frosty 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the coming winter is bound to be one of the harshest in living memory for all Ukrainians, including hundreds of thousands of Jews.
I caught a glimpse of these challenging times when I visited Odessa — Ukraine’s third-largest city — with my JDC study group last month, meeting many inspiring members of the local Jewish community.
In a crumbling Soviet-era apartment near the city center, I met a group of elderly who gather on a weekly basis as part of JDC’s Warm Home program.
“Things were already bad before,” said my host, a hospitable woman who baked pizza for her guests. “Now we don’t know how we’ll pay the heating bills.”
Besides the coming cold, other threats have reemerged. Tuberculosis has recently seen a resurgence throughout the country. In Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, a humdrum town two hours away from Odessa, I met a widow whose husband died of the disease last year at the age of 27.
She lives with their three young daughters in a small space where the air is heavy and stale. Ventilation in the winter comes at a price: Open a window, and bone-freezing gusts blow right in. Better the smell than the cold. After a few minutes, one hardly notices.
Despite the cramped conditions, the mother has managed to create a pleasant environment for her cheery blonde girls. They smiled and played with toys strewn on the floor while she shared her sad story, holding back the tears.
JDC gives her a stipend to operate the electric heater and supports her children’s classes at the local Hesed social welfare center.
JDC’s Winter Relief program is crucial for such members of the Jewish community. Now in its 23rd year, it delivers tons of heating fuel, warm bedding, and clothing to needy Jews across the former Soviet Union.
It is carried out together with the local Jewish community, Chabad, and with generous support from JDC’s Board of Directors, individual donors and foundations, and our generous 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.
“When temperatures drop to the teens and naughts, this is vital,” JDC’s Odessa representative Ira Zborovskaya told me as we discussed the hardship facing so many this time of year.
And while visiting the homes of the poor and needy is often discouraging, there were also many uplifting moments.
At the Hesed social welfare center in Odessa, we were greeted by a choir of elderly Yiddish enthusiasts singing a medley of songs in the mama lashon. At a JCC — one of two serving the city’s estimated 30,000 Jews — we saw people of all ages participating in dance, acting, and painting classes.
And while the circumstances by which children ended up at the orphanage run by Chabad were sad, the free board, shelter, and education they received were bright spots in these young lives.
Whether it is cultivating Jewish life or helping those in need, JDC’s mission in Ukraine over the next couple of months will be more important than ever.
Thankfully, for 100 years, and today, JDC is there.
Gil Shefler is a media relations specialist in JDC’s Global Marketing and Communications department.