Together with our partners at The Schechter Institutes, we at Masorti Olami continue to be in close contact and monitor the situation of our Masorti/Conservative communities across Ukraine and outside of the country. We are sharing with you, our friends and supporters around the world, an update about the current situation on the ground, as of today.
We want to thank all of our supporters from around the world. Thanks to your donations we have been able to evacuate over 60 refugees from Ukraine to safe places, and been able to provide them with everything they may need such as food, transport and shelter. Your help has meant that members of our communities are now safely in Germany, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Israel and Czechia and are being taken care of by our communities and/or connections there. Without your ongoing support and offers of assistance, none of this would at all be possible.
Community members in Chernivtsi after their last Havdallah together before evacuating Ukraine
The situation in Odessa has been relatively calm, and together with The Schechter Institutes, we have started to think about food distribution and activities, but need a few more calm days to implement these plans. Zev Waxman, leader of our Odessa community, together with the help of Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, Executive Director of Midreshet Schechter, has distributed food to older people in the community, and even though it may not be enough, it’s what he was able to purchase right now. He has been going house to house to check on everyone who is taking refuge there. It has also been relatively quiet in Kyiv and on Tuesday, several buses left for Chisinau in Moldova and Romania with many members of our communities. Yuri Radchenko, community leader in Kharkiv managed to flee to Dnipro, a city further away from the fighting and challenges in Kharkiv, but is now stuck there and cannot get to Chernivtsi. The teacher at our school in Kharkiv has also managed to distribute food including fish to community members who have been especially challenged to get even basic supplies in the city. Our ‘refugee camp’ in Chernivtsi is still existing, with many refugees continuing to pass through on their way to safer places. Currently more than 60 people are staying with our Chernivtsi community either in a hotel, in apartments or with the community itself. It has been difficult for the Chernivtsi community to provide as much food as is needed to feed all of the refugees in their care. Lev Kleiman, our community leader in Chernivtsi, again together with Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, have been working tirelessly to care for everyone and we thank them both immensely.
Many of our community members who were in Chernivtsi crossed the Romanian border on Sunday, thanks to the tremendous help and support from the JDC, and travelled to Oradea in western Romania where they were graciously met by the Jewish community. Despite long queues at the Romanian border, all of our members travelling as part of the Chernivtsi group, made it through safely. “This was a huge win, for all of us”, said Tehila Reuben, Deputy Director of Masorti and MERCAZ Olami, who has been running the operation of getting our refugees across the borders and safely to our European communities. The group was finally able to rest, breathe, and get a taste of the beautiful city of Oradea, ending their visit with a dinner hosted by the local Jewish community.
The group then continued to Budapest, where they were welcomed by ourDor Hadascommunity andMarom Center, led byAdam Schonberger, who fed them, took care of them and welcomed them to his community. They prepared home cooked meals for the group of refugees and have been assisting them with the visa and Aliyah process for those who will travel to Israel. They also purchased 45 rapid COVID tests since the group needed negative tests in order to check-in to their hotel in Berlin (which thankfully all came back negative!). They also arranged for long-term parking forRabbi Reuven Stamov’stwo cars which he drove from Ukraine, to stay there until he comes back from bringing his family to Israel.Tehila Reubenshared that “there are yet again no words to describe the efforts ofAdamand his community who have welcomed our people. Working withAdamand his team so closely over the past three days has been truly heartwarming and encouraging”.
You can get a taste from the pictures included, just how emotional it was. It was even more emotional for some, since this was the point where those continuing to Israel and those continuing to Berlin parted ways. Those who wish to continue on to Israel will remain in Budapest and many are already on their way to Ben Gurion Airport or have already landed, including Rabbi Reuven and Lena Stamov, the leaders of our communities in Ukraine, and their family, as well as two other members from our communities in Ukraine. Rabbi Mauricio Balter, Executive Director of Masorti and MERCAZ Olami together with Tehila Reuben, and NOAM Olami Director Chani Goldengreen, along with Rabbis David Golinkin and Irina Gritsevskaya from TheSchechter Institutes, greeted the Stamov Family at the airport. Tehila Reuben commented that “it was a rather emotional reunion, not knowing whether to feel happy and relieved, or sad and worried”. Rabbi Reuven Stamov will settle his family in Israel before returning to Chernivtsi and Berlin to take care of his communities. We are working closely with our partners at Masorti Israelto ensure there is a support network for Ukrainian refugees arriving in Israel.
The rest of the group, consisting of 36 refugees, travelled on to our community in Berlin led by Rabbi Gesa Ederberg, who along with Eva Frenzen, CEO of Masorti Germany, and the rest of their community are taking great care of them. They are placing refugees with member families, providing the children with places at Berlin's Masorti school, with pupils starting as soon as today! The Berlin community has also ensured that the unvaccinated members of the group will receive vaccines in Berlin on Friday. The community has been preparing for the arrival of their guests over the past few days, ensuring that nothing is spared. Tehila Reuben was “speechless over how much effort is going into making our group feel welcome in Berlin, to feel at home and to be comfortable in Berlin. Some of these refugees had left their homes with only the clothes on their backs, and are now in a place where they are 100% taken care of. I feel truly lucky to have a job that exposes me to such holy people in this world. So thank you, Rabbi Gesa and Eva, and your entire team of volunteers”.
Our communities in Poland and Prague are still working very hard with the refugees that are with them, on helping them get to their next destination. We again want to thank all of our communities around Europe who have offered to assist and welcome refugees and are supporting our ongoing efforts. Along with The Schechter Institutes, we continue to support our communities still within Ukraine by evacuating them to safety, as well as with individual families and refugees who have fled the country and are in need of our assistance.
We have compiled the most pressing needs that have been shared with us by our representatives of the communities from Ukraine, towards which your donations are and will be going. While it is still extremely difficult to transfer funds to those on the ground, together with our partners at The Schechter Institutes, we have found several reliable ways to get our communities the necessary funds across the borders and into Ukraine to where it is needed most.
Basic goods and supplies are needed by our communities across the country and in their new homes. This includes food, accommodation and sanitary products as well as protective gear and equipment such as helmets. Our communities also require vitamins, medicines and medical supplies, which are in short supply in the country.
Transport and evacuation to safe communities and houses, both in western Ukraine and in neighboring European countries, as well as Israel, is still needed for those who are seeking refuge. Our communities need to be evacuated to safety, via ground or air travel, and need accommodation once they reach their destinations. Our European communities who are now taking in refugees will need additional support to hosts people, tend to their urgent needs, and help get them settled in their new reality.
Long-term support and rebuilding of our Ukrainian communities will be needed. While we deal with the most pressing needs on the ground, together with our partners, we are starting to build a plan for the ‘day after’, when our community members will need to rebuild their lives wherever they find themselves. We will continue to update these needs, as the situation develops.
Masorti/Conservative communities from around Israel have come together to create a beautiful joint prayer and message for our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, and all those impacted by the situation in Ukraine, which can be viewed here. The outpouring of support from Masorti/Conservative communities has been immense. We are proud of Masorti Israel for creating this video to stand with our Ukrainian communities.
On February 24, we were joined by over 1000 people online for our 'Prayer For Peace In Ukraine', organized together with our partners at The Schechter Institutes, Masorti Israel, Rabbinical Assembly, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and MERCAZ Olami. If you missed the live prayer or would like to relive it, it can be viewed here.
Our partners at The Schechter Institutes have created a source sheet which we hope will be useful in your communities as you discuss current world events and ways in which you might support Ukraine including its Jewish communities. Please be in touch with us if you would like these materials translated for your community. The source sheet can be found here.
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We are Masorti Olami, the official International Movement of Masorti/Conservative Judaism, based in Jerusalem, Israel.