“Hello” from Kiev (or “Zdravstvuyte” as they say in Russian) and “Shabbat Shalom” from Jerusalem! I’m currently participating in a Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) leadership mission to Ukraine and Israel. Our Jewish Federation & Family Services (JFFS) Board Co-Chair Lori Schwartz is with me and we are having an extraordinary experience, meeting with leaders of local Jewish communities and interacting with those who benefit most from the global impact of our Annual Campaign.
I’ve been amazed to learn about the Jews of Ukraine and that they constitute the third largest Jewish community in Europe and the fifth largest in the world. In fact, Jewish settlements in Ukraine can be traced back to the 8th century, when Jewish refugees from the Byzantine Empire, Persia, and Mesopotamia fled from persecution by European Christians. While at times the Jewish community in Ukraine flourished, at other times it suffered periods of persecution and anti-Semitic discriminatory policies.
Earlier this week, we visited Babi Yar, a ravine in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and a site of massacres carried out by German forces and local collaborators during their campaign against the Soviet Union during WWII. We heard Hillel students share the story of a mom who had to give her child to a stranger in order to save his life. We heard stories of train rides towards death.
Then, yesterday, we met Max, whose parents also sent him away. This time, however, this Jewish child was sent towards a brighter future: Max was sent to the Jewish Agency’s summer camp. When he arrived at camp, he was embraced and greeted with the message that he was Jewish. He was Jewish. And he could embrace that. Instead of a train ride towards death, like those to Babi Yar, this train was a transport to Jewish renewal.
You are part of the Jewish renewal movement in Ukraine with your gift to the Annual Campaign. I invite each of you to consider participating on a future JFNA or local mission to learn about the impact of our campaign dollars. It is an indescribably heartening experience.
We were in Ukraine for just over 2 days and then, from Kiev, flew to Israel. It is always special to be here. I look forward to sharing more about this extraordinary leadership mission with you very soon.
Wishing you all a wonderful Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem,
Mission Statement: We care for people in need and strengthen Jewish life in Orange County, Israel, and around the world.
Jewish Federation & Family Services
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