Jewish Federations can assemble support quickly to help refugees - opinion

Jewish Federations are on the ground every day, in times of war and peace. And when an emergency hits, we have the structure in place to respond immediately.

 REBECCA CASPI, director-general of Jewish Federations of North America’s Israel office, greets new immigrants from Ukraine. (photo credit: TALI DAVID)
REBECCA CASPI, director-general of Jewish Federations of North America’s Israel office, greets new immigrants from Ukraine.
(photo credit: TALI DAVID)

In Odessa, 88-year-old Natalia relies on her JDC homecare aid for food, medicine and moral support. At an airport in Romania where 150 Jews are finding refuge, seven-year-old Yosef (name changed) is handed a furry teddy bear by an Israeli volunteer from United Hatzalah. On the Poland-Ukraine border, Jewish Agency emissary Raffael processes the paperwork of the Jasnagor family so they can rebuild their lives in the Jewish homeland.

Our brothers and sisters in Ukraine are in distress, and the Jewish world has mobilized to come to their aid. Natalia, Yosef and the Jasnagors are only a few of the thousands of individuals who have been aided since the beginning of this crisis, thanks to the support of so many members of the Jewish community.

I have been fortunate to channel my passion for tzedakah and helping others in over two decades with Jewish Federations at a local and national level. It brings deep meaning to my own life to be part of a collective that steps up whenever and wherever there is acute need. We have seen many crises. Yet, I write these words in the midst of what is perhaps the most important and urgent fundraising campaign that I have had the opportunity to play a role in.

Just over two week ago, as Russia was poised to invade Ukraine, I boarded a plane to Israel to participate in the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings. By the time I had landed, not only had the threat of invasion become a reality, plunging the global order into an unknown future, but something else had happened, too. In those short hours, the Jewish world had already begun implementing emergency protocols and mobilizing to come to the aid of Ukraine and its Jewish population.

Our teams at the Jewish Federations of North America were in contact around the clock with our main partners – the agency, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and World ORT, as well as other organizations on the ground in Ukraine, including United Hatzalah and Hillel, in order to receive real-time updates of needs from across the board, adapt our response to the evolving situation and translate those needs into action with the support of our North American Jewish communities.

President Isaac Herzog and Chair of The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Board of Trustees Mark Wilf. (credit: JEWISH AGENCY)President Isaac Herzog and Chair of The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Board of Trustees Mark Wilf. (credit: JEWISH AGENCY)

In a very short amount of time, Jewish Federations launched an extraordinary campaign with an initial goal of $20 million in order to provide urgent and critical assistance to vulnerable populations and protect and safeguard Ukraine’s Jewish community.

Our communities have stepped up in ways that have exceeded expectations. In just a few weeks, we have already exceeded our $20m. starting goal, thanks to tens of thousands of contributions that individual donors have made through their local Jewish Federations.

Initial funds have already been allocated toward the most urgent needs, including for temporary housing, food and medicines, getting people out of the firing line to safety, safeguarding the security of Jewish communal facilities and Jewish individuals, facilitating rapid aliyah for individuals wishing to immigrate to Israel and supporting their absorption upon arrival.

Jewish Federations are on the ground every day, in times of war and peace. And when an emergency hits, we have the structure in place to respond immediately.

It is the power of collective giving that led me to Jewish Federations more than two decades ago. In the early ’90s, the Federation movement (then known as UJA) raised an impressive $420m. for Soviet Jewry. In 1991, we raised $35m. in just a few days to rescue 14,000 Jews from war-torn Ethiopia. Jewish Federations are uniquely positioned to rapidly assemble massive financial support and ensure that it is allocated where it will yield the greatest impact.

Once again, we are called to duty, this time to stand with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine at this moment of crisis. And what can we all do? We can raise awareness in our communities about the humanitarian crisis and the extraordinary challenges faced by Jews in Ukraine. We can reach out to members of our community with strong ties to Ukraine and offer them comfort and support. We can contribute via our local Jewish Federations or through our national mailbox. Individual contributions will be amplified so much more through the power of the community.

We are witnessing one of the greatest humanitarian crises the world and the Jewish community have known in decades. We have a great responsibility at this time, and Jewish Federations are committed to upholding our decades-old promise to relieve suffering, protect vulnerable populations and strengthen Jewish life.

The writer is chairman of Jewish Federation of North America’s Israel and Overseas Committee.