The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is launching a first-of-its-kind central volunteer hub to support Ukrainian refugees fleeing the brutal war in Ukraine. The hub will be in charge of the recruitment and placement of hundreds of skilled volunteers, which will provide much-needed services on the ground.
The hub is a combined effort of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and IsraAID.
Other organizations have also joined the effort to recruit the needed skill sets, including the JCC Association of North America, the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, the Jewish Education Project and the Council of Jewish Émigré Community Organizations (COJECO), the central coordinating body of New York's Russian-speaking Jewish community.
In addition to recruitment and placement, the hub manages a structured program for volunteers, coordinating lodging, transport and logistics to ensure that the volunteer force can be focused and effective.
The focus of this initiative is the recruitment of North American Russian speakers who have a background in early childhood education, mental health or social work. Down the road, non-Russian speakers may also be enlisted based on need.
“Jewish Federations are uniquely positioned to create a centralized North American volunteer structure for this crisis, bringing together our extensive relationships with the network of organizations on the ground and our large network of Russian-speaking Jews across North America,” according to Sarah Eisenman, JFNA's Chief Community and Jewish Life Officer.
“There is a pressing need for skilled volunteer support, yet in a fast-moving crisis it can be difficult to map the needs and recruit the right people to match those needs," she said. "We’ve stepped in to meet the moment and bring together the organizations with those eager to serve.”
The first group sent with the hub consists of 30 volunteers, largely refugees and second generation refugees who are now returning to the same part of the world from where they came – this time to offer aid and assistance.
They will ship out to the Ukraine border sometime early next week, and remain there for two to four weeks.
“As a former refugee myself, I am proud to see how Russian-speaking Jews in North America are responding to the Ukraine crisis through a variety of measures, including volunteering on the border," said Olga Markus, director of Russian-Speaking Jewish Engagement at JFNA. "For refugees from the former Soviet Union, this is a meaningful opportunity to ‘pay-it-forward’ – and I am proud to help lead this aid relief.”