I was in Israel for much of the past week participating in the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) Board of Governors meeting. Being there gave me the opportunity to meet with some of the other partner agencies we work with including United Hatzalah and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). While we discussed “normal” Jewish business, much of our attention was focused on the horrible crisis in Ukraine. JAFI has relocated their Ukraine offices (typically JAFI has 90 employees working with the Jewish community throughout Ukraine) to several other countries to handle and respond to needs including the ballooning requests to make Aliyah. The JDC had been warehousing food and medicine for weeks before the war began to be able to continue providing for the Jews unable or unwilling to leave Ukraine. While I was at the United Hatzalah offices, we joined a briefing with their staff and volunteers who left the following night for the Polish border to assist refugees (both Jewish and non-Jewish). All of this was inspiring, but a visit on my final day in Israel made me truly feel the direct human toll this war is having in a profound way.
As you know, Karmiel and Misgav are our two Israeli partner communities. We added Warsaw in the last few years, and I’m sure I will have more to share about Warsaw in the weeks ahead as that community absorbs Jewish refugees from Ukraine. In Karmiel, I visited a JAFI program that helps young 17/18 year olds from around the world to experience Israel before they decide to formally make Aliyah. We met with a group of these impressive young people from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. After a musical performance, we spoke with two of the teens, one from Moscow and the other from Kyiv. They sat right next to each other while their home countries were battling in the streets of Kyiv. The young woman from Kyiv shared why she is in Israel and what she hopes to do in her future. She was asked about her parents back in Kyiv. She shared that her parents tried to escape Kyiv before the attacks began but were unsuccessful. For the next 5 to 10 minutes, she cried in front of us, and like Omicron, her weeping spread fast to the rest of us. The war was no longer just a news story for me. It was real and I witnessed someone directly impacted.
I must thank our staff who for several years have gone from crisis to crisis with passion and steadiness helping our Pittsburgh community continue to demonstrate leadership and caring. They are inspirational. And, of course, I must thank you, our donors, for all you do to support us in our endeavor.