Just a few days ago we returned from an intensive and emotional two-day mission to Poland and Ukraine.
The mission was a senior leadership mission in which we were joined by Israel’s minister of immigration and absorption, Pnina Tamano-Shata; the Jewish Agency for Israel’s (JAFI) acting chairman of the executive and chairman of the Word Zionist Organisation, Yaakov Hagoel; the Jewish Agency’s chairman of the Board of Governors, Michael Siegal; the Jewish Agency’s chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, Beth Kieffer Leonard; and the Jewish Agency’s CEO & Director General, Amira Ahronoviz.
Over the course of 48 hours, we saw first-hand the full scale of all the humanitarian operations taking place on the ground. The State of Israel, together with KH, JAFI and other partners have been working non-stop since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine to provide emergency aid and rescue assistance to the Jewish people of Ukraine and to bring Olim to Israel.
While we were there, we had the opportunity to cross the border from Poland into Ukraine to tour the Israeli field hospital that has been built and is being run by Israeli medical professionals. It was eye-opening and inspiring to see the intricacies of such an operation and the expertise, love and compassion of the Israeli nurses, doctors, and staff who are working under difficult conditions to provide life-saving treatments to Ukrainians.
Additionally, we visited a refugee centre (a former shopping mall) in Poland, on the border of Ukraine, through which thousands of refugees pass each day. It was incredibly moving and very sad to see so many displaced, mostly mothers and children and the elderly, who have clearly left loved ones behind not knowing what lies ahead. And these are the lucky ones. As part of this refugee centre there is a kindergarten, medical centre manned by Israeli NGOs and many other organisations, including JAFI, which are there assisting any refugee who is eligible and wants to make aliyah to Israel.
We saw JAFI’s temporary centre in Warsaw, where JAFI is working on the ground to provide consular services and process refugees and would-be olim before they make aliyah to Israel. Again, the majority are women and children and the elderly, some of whom have, no doubt, survived the Holocaust. While we were there, we met the incredible JAFI staff members and volunteers from Israel and other places in the world who are working around the clock to help the refugees. Some of these JAFI staff and volunteers are themselves refugees from Ukraine.
We also had the privilege of meeting refugees and future Olim who were on their way to the airport in Poland to board a plane and Aliyah flight leaving for Israel. Whilst this is clearly a very difficult time for them – and you could see it on their faces – we shared in their excitement, we sang and danced together and celebrated the new life that awaits them in Israel.
It was impactful and moving beyond words to have the opportunity to see and hear first-hand the heart-wrenching reality of millions of innocent people. This experience put everything into perspective, while also emphasising the sacred mission we are all on to help save the lives of innocent civilians who have been forced to flee their homes, leaving behind everything they once knew and start over.
This is the sacred work of Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Agency, and we are grateful to all of you, our supporters around the world, who have joined us in these critical and life-saving efforts.
When we sat and talked with the refugees and heard their stories, we were reminded of our history and the incredible strength and resilience of the Jewish people.
Not only were we reminded of our history, but we were also enlightened to a new meaning of the Passover holiday which we are going to celebrate in the coming days.
Every year, we gather around our seder tables to tell the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. This year, the story we will tell will not just be about our exodus thousands of years ago, but about the exodus of the Jewish people taking place right now – the thousands of Jews fleeing Ukraine in hopes of finding refuge in other places, like Israel.
This is a reminder to all of us to be thankful. Thankful not only for our personal freedom but for the freedom and strength we have that allows us to help others to safety, to find their own freedom. Thankful that Am Yisrael, the Jewish people, have a modern-day sovereign state of Israel. Unlike during the Holocaust where you were persecuted for being Jewish, today if you are Ukrainian, you would want to be Jewish as Israel and the Diaspora are there for you.
It is important that over the Passover holiday we try to recall what the seder night means during a time like this. As Jews, we have always endured tragedies and hardships. However, what has kept us going, as a people, has been our unity and ability to maintain a sense of purpose and order in our lives. Our acts of kindness and solidarity. Our ability to remain resilient and united.
Together, the KH leadership, staff, and family have reaffirmed our purpose, which is derived from our Jewish value of mutual responsibility – ערבים זה לזה. The People of Israel – עם ישראל – will always be there for one another.
We thank you for your continued support of the Jewish people of Ukraine and for your commitment to working together with Keren Hayesod. The needs are great and continue to grow.
This year the words מעבדות לחירות – from oppression to freedom – will take on a new meaning.
We wish all of you a Happy Passover.
Steven Lowy is the chairman of Keren Hayedod-UIA World Board of Trustees. Sam Grundwerg is Keren Hayedod-UIA world chairman.
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