KKL-JNF – Working on behalf of Jewish refugees from Ukraine  

KKL-JNF is providing crucial humanitarian and absorption assistance to victims of the war  

 ISRAELI CHILDREN welcome Ukrainian children to KKL-JNF Field and Forest Education Center in Ness Harim.  (photo credit: JORGE NOVOMINSKI)
ISRAELI CHILDREN welcome Ukrainian children to KKL-JNF Field and Forest Education Center in Ness Harim.
(photo credit: JORGE NOVOMINSKI)

In recent months, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund has been working throughout Europe and Israel to provide humanitarian assistance for Jewish refugees fleeing Ukraine following the Russian invasion and the devastation that followed. On March 4, the KKL-JNF Board of Directors decided to allocate special and significant financial assistance for Ukrainian Jews, and a special unit was established in KKL-JNF’s resource development and external affairs division

“Our assistance concerns only the Jewish refugees who reached the borders of Ukraine and were evacuated to safe places in Ukraine,” says Shariel Gon, director of fundraising of KKL-JNF’s resource development and external affairs division. “We set a goal of helping the Jewish refugees, and after seeing the reality on the ground and in the data, we saw that they have fallen through the cracks. Immigrants from Ukraine to Israel receive assistance from the Jewish Agency, and there are Israeli citizens who are also residents of Ukraine who receive assistance from the Foreign Ministry. But there is a gap – the Jewish citizens of Ukraine have become refugees, and they do not belong to either of these two groups, and no one is taking care of them. It is for this reason that KKL-JNF has become involved.” 

KKL-JNF emphasizes that the center it has established is focused on assisting Jewish refugees in Ukraine and those near its borders with Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. The resource development and external affairs division operates in the war zone with three JNF-KKL offices: Ukraine, Hungary and Central Europe and the Czech Republic. These are relatively small offices, without emissaries, operated primarily by local activists and volunteers. 

The organization is conducting activities in Ukraine via the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine – an association of national, regional and local Ukrainian organizations that strengthens and supports Jewish-Ukrainian relations. This allows them to assist different communities in different areas of Ukraine. For example, in dealing with the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, KKL-JNF provides money to people in the war zone and evacuates refugees to western Ukraine, helping refugees with housing expenses, transportation, food, toiletries for children, medicines and security and logistics costs. 

Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund in the Czech Republic has signed an agreement with the Jewish community in Bratislava (Slovakia), which coordinates assistance for Ukrainian Jewish refugees who have crossed the border into Slovakia, including transportation, food, medicine and coronavirus tests.

UKRAINIAN REFUGEES cross a bridge at the buffer zone to the border with Poland, Zosin-Ustyluh crossing, western Ukraine, in March. (Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)UKRAINIAN REFUGEES cross a bridge at the buffer zone to the border with Poland, Zosin-Ustyluh crossing, western Ukraine, in March. (Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images)

JNF-KKL Hungary and Central Europe is working with Jewish communities and organizations in Hungary, including Hashomer Hatzair, providing housing solutions for refugees in Hungarian territory, toiletries for women and children, food and, of course, medicines. In addition, KKL-JNF’s resource development and external affairs division has continued its fundraising efforts for refugee assistance. Thus far, more than NIS 2 million has been raised. Fundraising efforts are ongoing through most JNF-KKL offices worldwide, as well as direct recruitment efforts around the world and via direct donations worldwide and in Israel. “When it comes to providing aid, we are operating on four fronts,” explains Gon. “One is through the Jewish organizations in Ukraine – we work with the association of Ukrainian-Jewish organizations, and through them, we manage to help the largest number of refugees from most cities, providing assistance to as many communities as possible. 

“The second front through which we operate is via our office in Hungary for refugees crossing the border from Ukraine. They reach the transit stations without a place to stay, and with no food or medicine and we are there to provide them with that. 

“The third front is through our JNF-KKL office in the Czech Republic, where we also help in crossing the border with Slovakia and meeting the humanitarian needs of the refugees through the funds we give them. The last front is here in Israel.” 

Mutual unity

When Gon speaks about the Israeli front, he is referring to the absorption of dozens of children from Ukraine in the KKL-JNF Field and Forest Education Center in Ness Harim. KKL-JNF hosted 100 children and staff from Chabad’s “Alumim” children’s home in Zhytomyr. The children, who arrived with the assistance of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, have been well-provided and have enjoyed a variety of activities, educational programs and tours throughout the country. 

“We are constantly receiving reports collecting the numerous referrals we receive and making status assessments of the use of funds and activities and how more can be helped,” says Gon. “Our emphasis in providing maximum assistance to the refugees, whether it is to help them with housing and a roof over their heads in the first few days after they cross the border into the target countries or to provide them with food and clothing. We are there at the critical moments, making sure that we connect with them until they are settled.” 

KKL-JNF assistance in Hungary. (Credit: KKL-JNF)KKL-JNF assistance in Hungary. (Credit: KKL-JNF)

The fund’s activities in Ukraine are very extensive, and in addition to providing medicine, clothing and kosher food, the organization also assisted the Jewish communities who organized online broadcasts of educational programs and helped hundreds of refugees conduct the Seder this Passover, taking care of all their needs. 

KKL’s generous support allowed the Jewish community of Kyiv to evacuate the assisted living facility for seniors and Holocaust survivors, enabling the residents to reach a safe place in western Ukraine, while providing them with a roof over their heads, kosher food, and, of course, medical assistance.

KKL-JNF has assisted many organizations through the confederation, including the Community of Progressive Judaism of Ukraine and the Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine.

KKL-JNF assistance has reached many cities in Ukraine, such as Kyiv, Odesa, Cherkasy, Uman and Khmelnytskyi. 

“Supporting refugees is not the bread and butter of traditional KKL-JNF activity,” says Kobi Davit, president of JNF-KKL Hungary and Central Europe. “We were caught up in this war, but it gave us the right to return and support our brothers in exile, and this is a significant degree of mutual unity between Diaspora Jews and the State of Israel and vice versa.” 

Davit emphasizes the historical importance of KKL-JNF Hungary against the background of World War II and the memory of the Holocaust. “The local branch operated here until 1938, and we reopened it in 2021,” he says. “The history of Central and Eastern Europe is very important to Zionism as we know it today. Less than 500 meters from where we are, Theodor Herzl, the visionary of the State of Israel, was born. Today we are closing a circle and doing so with pride, because we show and give this support through KKL-JNF on behalf of the State of Israel, to those families whose parents and grandparents may have been an integral part of the effort to establish the State of Israel.

“We made sure to give them a roof over their heads, we gathered them in one place and made them accessible to the entire community and through our partners so that they could receive humanitarian and medical assistance. It is an effort of a large number of organizations. We are doing everything we can to provide them with aid as soon as they arrive in Hungary.” 

Davit says it is impossible not to be moved by the sight of refugees crossing the border. “You see people boarding trains with backpacks, without their belongings, and all their possessions left behind. These are primarily girls and children who are alone with their mothers, because the fathers are restricted from leaving the country due to the general mobilization in Ukraine. 

“Masses of families cross the border and reach screening centers. One of our main challenges is building a platform that will provide an initial roof over their heads to those who leave their world and go into the unknown. 

“When we meet them, we have staff whose job is to interact with them, and we do our best to make their stay pleasant, in addition to providing assistance,” Davit says. “We also try to make sure they have soaps and toiletries, games for children and clothing. We are trying, and sometimes we succeed in returning a smile to their faces.” 

This article was written in cooperation with KKL-JNF.

Translated by Alan Rosenbaum.