In retrospect, politicians and pundits agree that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch an all-out attack on neighboring Ukraine was predictable. They point to Putin’s paranoid obsession with an ever-growing list of accusations of Russia-targeted expansion in Eastern Europe by the West and NATO, and the unsupported charges of Ukrainian atrocities against the country’s Russian-speaking minority. Yet, in the run-up to the attack, there was hope that an invasion could be averted and that reason, diplomacy and a universal interest in world order would prevail. That was not to be.
While governments and their leaders were issuing warnings and threats designed to deter Putin, the international Jewish aid world was ramping up its efforts for rescue and relief of Jews in Ukraine. Instead of waiting for the attack to launch, the relief agencies planned for it with something close to military precision.
The size of Ukraine’s Jewish community is unclear. A 2020 demographic survey numbered 43,000 Jews. The European Jewish Congress says that number could be as high as 400,000. In any case, by the morning after the invasion, Jewish federations in this country were announcing a Ukraine emergency fund and their partnering with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), HIAS and World ORT — all of whom have been working in Ukraine for decades and have established relationships in Ukraine to help facilitate relief protocols.
We applaud the quick mobilization and careful planning of the Jewish relief effort, and the related fundraising activities of our local federations and the umbrella Jewish Federations of North America. In this time of crisis, our communities are proving once again that we are our brothers’ keepers.
The Jewish Agency has established six aliyah-processing stations at Ukrainian borders to help facilitate a safe and quick aliyah for those eligible, interested and able take advantage of the opportunity; has accelerated a program to upgrade security at Jewish institutions across Ukraine; and has arranged care for the more than 1500 Ukrainians involved in JAFI-sponsored programs in Israel, Budapest and elsewhere, who cannot return home. JDC’s work in the area is focused on Ukraine’s Jewish population — many of whom are refugees in their own country. That work includes continuing care for nearly 40,000 impoverished elderly Jewish Ukrainians and thousands of vulnerable younger community members and involves as well as works with dozens of local organizations devoted to communal safety and welfare.
Israel has announced a significant aid package for Ukraine’s Jewish community to support security assistance, food distribution and absorption of refugees. But, on the political side, the Israeli government has pulled its punches. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemned the Russian invasion. But Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in speaking about assistance to Jews in Ukraine, did not name the cause of the situation or place fault. That reluctance to confront Putin and Russia caused some to criticize the government’s failure to respond to the invasion with moral clarity. Others were more accepting, recognizing the fragility of Israel’s reliance on Russian goodwill to allow preemptive moves against Iranian terror-supporting activity in war-torn Syria. On Monday, however, Israel announced it would join the U.N. vote to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In the fluid and fraught situation in Ukraine, we find comfort knowing that our community’s international partners are there to help. We encourage our readers to donate generously to those life-saving efforts. pjc