I’m sure most of you read Steve Ingber’s heartfelt briefing about our experience representing the Detroit Jewish community at the Medyka crossing and the Warsaw refugee centers run by our partner agencies, JAFI and the JDC. My special thanks to Steve for including me in this extraordinary journey.
Four million refugees in just six weeks, more than two million in Poland alone. This is a crisis for women, children and the elderly. The driver who met me at the Warsaw airport and had earlier volunteered at the border told me it looked to him like children going to school. And that is exactly what we saw … little kids in down jackets, knit hats, and Disney princess backpacks … holding their mother or grandmother’s hand. A scene both so ordinary and yet so out of the ordinary, all at the same time. It is truly heartbreaking. The adults are teachers, accountants, doctors … they all have cell phones, they have manicures. It could be any one of us.
One of my most memorable encounters was with Lily and her daughters, Sonya and Lala.
Lily is a surgeon. They fled the Kharkiv area and are temporarily housed at a JAFI-run hotel for refugees applying to make aliyah. They receive free food, clothing and medical care. When we met the family, they were still searching for a crate large enough to accommodate Gerald. Once they find it, they will be on their way to Israel. Lala told me they have family and friends there and have visited before. She confided in me that secretly she has always wanted to make aliyah. Even under extraordinary circumstances JAFI is making dreams come true!
Our overseas partners, JDC AND JAFI, are doing amazing work, thanks to our consistent annual support, and the dollars we have raised in the Ukrainian Emergency Campaign. I can share with you we heard Hebrew spoken everywhere we went; not only by volunteers and staff from our partner agencies, but those of many other organizations assisting the refugee effort. At the Przemysl Refugee center, only minutes from the Medyka border crossing, we found young Israeli volunteers running the childcare center, singing and dancing with the children, giving their mothers a much needed break. Inside the medical clinic we met doctors from Hadassah Hospital, their masks proudly displaying the Israeli flag. They volunteer in two-week shifts but most importantly … they bring a medical clown!
Finally, we heard over and over again from professionals on the ground the crisis is entering a new phase. People that were just trying to escape to safety are now faced with making plans for the future. We have long-standing relationships with Jewish communities in Krakow and Warsaw, as well as in Kiev. It is our duty as a community to keep our eye on what will happen after the emergency campaign wraps up.
Refugees, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are experiencing an Exodus of their own. We should all be proud that the Jewish Federation is making a difference, both here at home and across the ocean, for those in need. As a child of refugees myself, I know how life-changing that assistance can be. Thank you, again, for giving me the opportunity, as a representative of Women’s Philanthropy and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, to observe and report on the extraordinary humanitarian effort that is being made on our behalf.
Leah Trosch is a former President of Federation Women’s Philanthropy and current Co-chair of the Israel & Overseas Allocations Committee.