WARSAW – Arina Forys, 12 years old, is a modern day refugee. She left Kyiv with her parents and brother with no clothes except for what she is currently wearing. The rest she left behind. However, Arina has one thing that has possibly saved her life: she is Jewish.
The Forys family finally reached a hotel in Warsaw over the weekend after close to a week of avoiding shelling, shooting and huge traffic jams outside the Polish border.
Yet the Forys are in a different situation than most of their neighbors in Kyiv: The Jewish people and the Israeli government have their back. The family is staying in a beautiful prepaid hotel room. They are given three meals a day, and will be immigrating to Israel on Wednesday.
When they arrive in Israel, they’ll be able to stay in a hotel for at least a month, all paid for by the Israeli government. A Jewish Agency emissary is now helping them with anything they need. He’s an amazing individual who has left the business world and is devoting himself to the Jewish people.
Israel was established almost 74 years ago as a Jewish state, and I could not be more proud of my beautiful country and people after what I have seen during the past week.
Even before we knew that Russian President Vladimir Putin would invade Ukraine and begin a terrible war, Jewish organizations around the world, and the Israeli government, invested countless hours in order to think of all the possible situations that might occur, but also of ways to evacuate and save the lives of tens of thousands of Israelis and Jews.
Less than 100 years have passed since the Holocaust wiped out six million Jews. In the 1930s, being a Jew in Europe was considered being a second-class citizen. In 2022, having Jewish blood can literally save your life.
Tens of millions of dollars have already been spent by Jews around the world and by the Israeli government. Hundreds of refugee camps have been created across Ukraine and next to its borders with four different countries.
If you’re a Ukrainian Jew, there are countless individuals and organizations that will do anything in their power to save you from the Russian attack. They will give you a hot meal and offer you a place to sleep until the situation is solved. As a Ukrainian Jew, or at least as a Ukrainian with Jewish grandparents, you have the opportunity to immigrate to Israel – a Jewish State with a sovereign government and army.
It has been almost a week now, and the Israeli media outlets are constantly interviewing Israelis and Ukrainian Jews about the situation. We of course care about the bigger picture, but at the same time, we worry about the Israelis and the Jews.
So what else is happening? A group of Ukrainian and Russian Israeli immigrants decided to create a special prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Another group of Israelis is trying to raise NIS 500,000 for the Jews of Ukraine. In both cases I mentioned, there are no politicians or others looking to gain publicity or attention. They are behind the scenes; they really just want to help.
There are many Israeli and Diaspora Jews working behind the scenes. The Jewish Federations of North America have raised $20 million. Why on earth do American Jews need to donate their time and money to Ukrainian Jews? Why did Keren Hayesod feel the need to raise millions from Jews in Europe, Oceania and Latin America?
Because that is our DNA as a nation.
Unfortunately, we perform a lot better during times of crisis than in times of peace.
There are also individuals who are doing good in small ways: Jonny Daniels, a British-Israeli living in Poland was moved by the Forys family from Kyiv. Arina is the age of his oldest daughter. He went to a local mall and bought her and her brother, Max, designer shoes.
“Arina’s going to need nice shoes if she wants to fit in at Israeli schools,” he said. Her mother, Natalia, burst into tears when Daniels gave them the shoes and a few additional presents.
Why did the Israeli government invest NIS 10 million for emergency assistance for Jewish communities in Ukraine? It actually did the same in 2014, and again, it is because we, as a Jewish state, feel the responsibility to help our brothers and sisters in need.
Many more Israeli or Jewish philanthropists have donated or are planning to donate. Every other hour I read about another organization that has decided to help in any way they can. It is heartwarming. It is amazing.
To the world it may seem a bit odd: why is this small country in the Middle East and its Diaspora partners worldwide losing sleep over a war taking place so far away? Any Jew would answer simply: this is a basic Jewish value of Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, all of Israel is responsible one for the other.
When Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was Diaspora Affairs minister, he would be asked: “Why does the Israeli government need to spend hundreds of millions of shekels on Jewish communities around the world without asking for anything in return?”
Bennett's answer, far from intellectual, was straight and simple: “Just because.”
He nailed it.