Jewish refugees from Donetsk and Luhansk in Zhitomyr in August..
(photo credit: SAM SOKOL)
The Israeli government has earmarked NIS 2 million for the rehabilitation of Jews displaced by the conflict in Ukraine, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The move marks a turnaround for Jerusalem, which has previously been accused of taking a distinctly laissez faire attitude by Jewish leaders there.
While Israeli officials declined to speak about it, a source close to the project told the Post that “considerable resources” have been allocated to provide “members of the Jewish community who have been affected by the fighting,” including thousands of internally displaced persons, with food, clothing and shelter.
“This is a very sensitive time for the Jewish community in the Ukraine; therefore much of the aid needs to be delivered through non-conventional channels,” the source stated.
Thousands of Jews have left their homes, fleeing to Russia, Israel and cities across the Ukraine.
Until now, Ukrainian Jews have provided aid from their own rapidly depleting communal funds and from monies provided by the Jewish Agency, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Chabad and Jewish Federations. According to Chief Rabbi Ya’acov Dov Bleich, most of the local middle class donor base has dried up due to the economic crisis brought about by the Maidan revolution and subsequent civil war, leaving communities even more dependent on oligarchs and foreign donors.
Speaking with the Post several months ago, prior to fleeing Donetsk, city rabbi Pinchas Vishedki said that while the American and Japanese embassies have called him to check on the community’s status, he had not heard from representatives of the Israeli government.
That may reflect the narrow line that Israeli officials, wary of offending Russia, have had to walk to maintain neutrality in the conflict.
Until now there has been much talk and little action, Vishedski told the Post on Thursday, adding that if “the State of Israel has finally woken up to aid the refugees – we welcome that.”
The Post understands that the JDC will act as Israel’s intermediary, passing funds on to local organizations working with refugees.
Instead of directly providing aid on the ground, the money the government provides will be used to reimburse organizations for their outlays.
Community leaders in Kiev, Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk have all confirmed being contacted by the JDC.
“There is a new program by the Israeli government... which will fund 75 percent of the costs to care for a refugee, said Rabbi Refael Kruskal, CEO of Odessa’s Tikva organization. “The other 25% will be paid for by the JDC or the organization that is helping the refugee.”
“It is wonderful that the Israeli government is finally getting involved in a program that could help hundreds of people who have fled from the eastern, war stricken part of Ukraine,” he said.
Both Zelig Brez, the director of the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk, and Chabad rabbi Reuven Azman of Kiev, confirmed being contacted by the JDC about the matter.
Bleich praised the decision to provide aid, stating that Jerusalem is “taking responsibility for a diaspora community not only to make aliya” and calling it “a big shift in the policy of the Israeli government.”
The Conference of European Rabbis, which recently made statements critical of current aid efforts in Ukraine, likewise welcomed the “increased coordination on the Jewish refugee crisis between local Jewish communities in Ukraine, international Jewish organizations and the Israeli government,” CER President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt said.
The CER came under fire last week from Ukrainian Jews angry over disparaging comments made about the JDC’s role in their country.
However, despite the praise, one Ukrainian communal representative said that to him it was “extremely concerning that it took the Israeli government since March to respond to this crisis.”
“Who could wait so long?” the communal official asked.
“They have to clean up their bureaucracy... some things just can’t take so long.”
While the aid plan is still in its early days, with only several preliminary meetings between JDC officials and local communal leaders having been held, it represents a marked shift in Israel’s approach to the humanitarian crisis affecting Ukraine’s Jews.
The JDC did not reply to requests for comment.