Three Jewish leaders – Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO, Jewish Federations of North America; Haim Ben Yakov, CEO of Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (EAJC); and Margarita Spichko Schein, head of the Diaspora division of Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs – participated in a panel discussion at The Jerusalem Post London Conference on how Jewish organizations are changing reality on the ground during the Ukraine conflict. The Jerusalem Post correspondent Zvika Klein moderated the panel.
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Fingerhut, who has traveled to the area several times since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, noted that most of the refugees are women and children, since men who are eligible to fight are not allowed to leave Ukraine. The Jewish Federations of North America, he said, have raised $50 million for emergency funds during the conflict, in addition to last year’s annual funding of over $100m. Jewish relief organizations such as the Jewish Agency and the JDC bring people to the border, who are then transported to hotels and hospitals. “There is a massive need for housing and humanitarian needs for refugees in the border countries,” Fingerhut stated. He praised the Israeli government, along with the rest of the Jewish world, for the cooperation and assistance that has been provided. Fingerhut predicted that the crisis would not end soon and the absorption needs of new immigrants to Israel from Ukraine will also be substantial.
Margarita Spichko Schein said that the Israeli government responded quickly to the crisis and has partnered with major Jewish organizations, such as JDC and Chabad, that are active in the region. “We’ve been working with them to provide humanitarian aid and to translate the governmental funds to food, medicine, rescue missions and alternative housing,” she said.
Spichko Schein, who has family members in both Ukraine and Russia, illustrated the level of the personal tragedy happening in Ukraine. Most of her Ukrainian family members are staying behind because their children, who are of fighting age, cannot leave. Many of her relatives in Russia, on the other hand, are leaving.
Ben Yakov, said that the Jewish community of Moldova through the assistance of the EAJC, has organized 11 temporary accommodation centers in Moldova for Ukrainian Jewish refugees throughout the country and is also active in Ukraine as well as areas in Western Europe, such as Vienna and Berlin. Interestingly, he said, a letter found in the Cairo Geniza indicates that Jews have been living in Ukraine since the 10th century. Ben Yakov noted that one particular challenge will be providing assistance to families before Passover and helping them celebrate the holiday in this challenging time.
The future of Jewish life and the Jewish communities in post-Soviet countries such as Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Moldova and Kazakhstan, he said, very much depends on the geopolitical developments in the region.