Essential aid flows through FJC and Chabad’s on-the-ground network in Ukraine
By Yaakov Ort | Chabad.org
[Main photo: A delegation of leaders from Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), led by President and CEO Eric Fingerhut, center right, National Campaign Chair J. David Heller, center, and Executive Vice President Shira Hutt, center left, met in Ashkelon, Israel with representatives of Chabad’s Jewish Relief Network Ukraine (JRNU), where they visited the school and facilities that house the children from the Alumim orphanage in Zhitomir, Ukraine who were evacuated to Israel at the start of the crisis. Also present were (back row, l-r) Rabbi Nechemia Wilhelm, Chabad of Zhitomir; Rabbi Mendel Lieberman, Chabad of Ashkelon; Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, JRNU and Chabad of California; Rina Goldberg, JFNA; David Warren, Federation CEO in Hartford, Conn. and children and administrators from the orphanage.]
As the crisis in Ukraine enters its 16th month, the humanitarian crisis continues to grow daily. Ever mindful that the conflict has drained Ukraine’s financial and human resources, and is causing crushing poverty to skyrocket from 2 percent to 25 percent of the population, the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Relief Network Ukraine (JRNU)—the unified effort for funding and providing humanitarian work in Ukraine and bring essential, life-saving aid to Jewish communities throughout the country—is continuing to expand its partnerships with the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and other Jewish philanthropies.
“The historians of our generation will write about this period as the first time ever that a crisis broke out in Europe and being a Jew did not mean you were a victim, but that there was an infrastructure in place to rescue and care for you,” Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, told Chabad.org.
When JFNA looked for ways to distribute that aid effectively and efficiently, and directly reach the communities and individuals in need above and beyond its longstanding partnerships with the Jewish Agency for Israel, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and World ORT, it was only natural to partner with Chabad-Lubavitch in Ukraine.
Reaffirming that commitment last week, a delegation of leaders from JFNA, led by Fingerhut and JFNA’s National Campaign Chair J. David Heller, met with representatives of Chabad in Ashkelon, Israel, where they visited the school and facilities that house the children from an orphanage in Zhitomir, Ukraine who were airlifted to Israel last year. They heard detailed briefings from Rabbi Shlomo Peles, CEO of JRNU, and Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, senior advisor to JRNU who has helped to establish and steer the funding and aid efforts, on the broad scope of Chabad’s work in Ukraine. Fingerhut reaffirmed the commitment of JNFA to the ongoing partnership with Chabad in providing assistance to Ukrainian Jews. David Heller praised Chabad’s cooperation with the JDC and the Jewish Agency in projects in Ukraine.
An Infrastructure of Care
Since 1990, when the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—sent the first permanent emissaries to what was then still the Soviet Union, Chabad’s network of emissaries has built an expansive network of synagogues, Jewish educational programs and social-service organizations across 32 major cities in Ukraine, serving hundreds more small towns and villages. Chabad rabbis and their wives are often the only Jewish communal address in an entire region and are responsible for creating modern Ukraine’s thriving Jewish infrastructure. When the crisis began in February 2022, this network—created to foster Jewish life in Ukraine—was forced to switch to a crisis-time footing.
At the same time, JFNA’s call to aid Ukraine was answered by philanthropists throughout the Federation system. “Our infrastructure took decades and hundreds of millions of dollars to build,” Fingerhut explained. “Our Federation system should feel a tremendous sense of pride knowing that our investment is saving the lives of so many Jews and non-Jews on European soil. I am inspired by the many individuals across our system who have responded so generously to this crisis and who continue to make these vital relief efforts possible.”
Rina Goldberg, JFNA’s associate vice president for Israel and Overseas, has helped to oversee the distribution of $5 million in aid to Chabad in Ukraine.
Citing the work over the past 15 months with Peles and Eliezrie of the JRNU, Goldberg said the effectiveness of the partnership is “clearly from how it’s been organized from the top,” and that the JFNA has “trust and faith in Chabad and its work on the ground.”
Chabad’s Jewish infrastructure in Ukraine, she says, makes it an effective conduit of aid during the crisis. “Chabad has shown extraordinary transparency, has acted with clarity and understanding of whose needs to be met, and has reported the results in a timely way,” Goldberg observed.
Presence in Ukraine since the 1700s
The Chabad presence in Ukraine is as old as the movement itself. Ukraine is where the Chassidic movement was born in the 1700s and home for centuries to many famed Chassidic centers, including Chabad ones. During the Communist era, many of Chabad’s clandestine efforts to foster Jewish life under brutal Soviet oppression took place in Ukraine, where some 50 percent of the USSR’s Jewish population lived. When the Rebbe sent his first permanent emissaries to Ukraine in 1990, they were able to build on the work of earlier generations of Chabad activists, who heroically kept the embers of Jewish faith burning, to create what could be called a new golden era of Jewish life in Ukraine.
This Jewish infrastructure grew by leaps and bounds over a period of 30 years until the crisis came and everything changed. But it did not disappear. Today, from shell-pocked Kharkov on the northeastern border to decimated Mariupol on the Azov Sea; from Dnipro in the east through the capital of Kiev, down to Odessa; and out west to Zhitomir and Uzhgorod, Chabad of Ukraine’s Jewish communal infrastructure has served as a lifeline for tens of thousands of Ukrainians suffering through a heretofore unimaginable catastrophe.
With the help of the JRNU, 35,000 people were evacuated from the country during the first months, with another 30,000 internally displaced being cared for. As the crisis is well into its second year, about 50,000 people in Ukraine are being provided assistance each month by JRNU.
A Harbinger of Growing Cooperation
Chabad’s partnership with JFNA has been part of a wider network of philanthropic and humanitarian partnerships, including with the International Federation of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) and the Orthodox Union (OU), as well as thousands of individual donors from around the world, who have contributed directly to the JRNU.
“The partnership in Ukraine is a new dimension in many long-standing cooperative efforts between the Jewish Federations and Chabad on a local and national level,” said Eliezrie, who hopes this expanded partnership can be a harbinger of more effective ways to serve Jewish communities not just in Ukraine but around the world.
He noted that a major donor to the Chabad efforts in Ukraine from the outset of the crisis has been the UJA-Federation of New York, which has had a longstanding, productive relationship with Chabad. In the winter of 5741 (1981), the Rebbe offered his support to a Federation campaign in a letter to Rabbi Isaac Trainin, then-director of religious affairs. The Rebbe noted that he once consented to a press release “in which I endorsed the U.J.A.-Federation Campaign some years ago, and suggest that a similar endorsement at this time would be most helpful.”
The Rebbe explained that although the Sixth Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory—had established a policy of making “no public endorsements of any cause, however worthy,” other than those connected to Lubavitch, the Rebbe would do so in this case.
“In view of the growing needs of our Jewish brethren, both here and overseas, particularly in the area of Jewish education I earnestly trust that everyone who is approached for a contribution to this campaign will respond warmly and generously to counteract the growing forces of assimilation, cults, intermarriage, etc. that are seriously eroding the very foundations of American and world Jewry,” the Rebbe wrote.
“We have worked together for years to strengthen Jewish life around North America,” said Eliezrie. “Local Federations like the UJA-Federation of New York have supported Chabad educational programs, teen activities, campus centers and other projects. In emergencies like the Florida hurricanes, the Florida federations’ support of Chabad’s local humanitarian aid was essential.”
Goldberg, of the JFNA, lauded the virtue of the partnerships that made this possible. “Recognizing that we are part of one big Jewish community enables us to serve the Jewish person who lives around the corner as well as the one who lives around the world, in their happiest and most difficult moments,” she said.
“The shluchim [emissary couples] around Ukraine have served their communities so faithfully and heroically throughout the crisis,” concluded Goldberg. “We are so grateful to have Chabad in this partnership.”
Here is a look at how some of this philanthropic funding delivered in partnership with the Jewish Relief Network Ukraine, (JRNU)—the unified Chabad-Lubavitch effort for funding and providing humanitarian work in Ukraine—has brought essential, often life-saving aid to Jewish communities throughout the country.
Let There Be Warmth: Chabad Brings Life-Saving Generators to Embattled Ukraine
For millions of Ukrainians this winter, keeping warm is a life-and-death struggle. With the power grid under continuous attack, electricity, heat and hot water are always scarce—and sometimes not available for days at a time—which has made local generators vital for deep-winter survival.
Dairy Products Arrive in Ukraine Cities Just in Time for Shavuot
In anticipation of the Shavuot holiday in conflict-ridden Ukraine, specially-stocked refrigerated trucks are making their rounds to Jewish communities throughout the nation. The vehicles are loaded with pallets of dairy products like ice-cream and cheeses—a highlight of the holiday—while also delivering meat, poultry and other essential items to Jewish communities in need.
Ukraine Jews Prepare for Second Passover Under Fire
In battle-ravaged Kherson, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Wolff, along with the scores of other Chabad emissaries in Ukraine as well as teams of rabbinical students deployed by Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in New York, is gearing up for a massive Passover campaign, ensuring that Ukraine Jewry has food, matzah and a Seder to attend. More than 30,000 households will receive Passover packages, with matzah, grape juice, chicken and other staples from JRNU (Jewish Relief Network Ukraine), Chabad’s umbrella organization coordinating relief efforts on the ground.
The Jews of Ukraine Mark One Year of Crisis and Resolve
When a Jew in one part of Ukraine needs assistance in another, Chabad’s close-knit network has always been quick to respond. If what distinguished this vast network in Ukraine before the crisis was its singularity and ubiquitousness, what has set it apart since has been its consequence. Never in modern times has a Jewish communal infrastructure been tested more, nor been found more effective, than in the current Ukraine crisis.
Jewish Girls From Ukraine Find Inspiration and Joy at Roving Winter Camp
While the crisis grinds on in Ukraine and people of all ages contend with cold, darkness and danger, there is one small corner of the country where you’ll hear the sweet sounds of children singing and dancing. Up in the Carpathian Mountains, Chabad’s “Camp Yeka Girls” is in full session.
The Logistics of Transporting (and Feeding) 30,000 Ukrainian Jewish Refugees
Whenever Tania Baily or her 13-year-old daughter, Veronika, hear a siren, they jump with fear. After spending three days running between home and the local school, which doubled as a bomb shelter, and sleeping fitfully there each night as the air-raid sirens wailed, they decided that it was time to leave their Ukrainian village, 160 kilometers from Kropyvnytskyi (formerly Kirovograd). Dozens of Ukrainian Jewish communities are organizing transportation and support for those fleeing their burning country. According to on-the-ground reports, representatives of Chabad-Lubavitch centers in Ukraine have helped evacuate 30,000 people so far.
140 Refugees From Ukraine Children’s Home Arrive Safely in Israel
A group of 140 refugees from a children’s home in Zhitomir, Ukraine—including 90 young children—arrived at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport, ending a grueling, five-day journey through a deadly zone. The children, ages 2 to 12, were evacuated from Zhitomir’s Chabad-run Alumim children’s home as sirens began to wail and missiles exploded nearby.
Dodging Bombs, Jewish Community Convoy Makes Last-Minute Dash Out of Kharkov
A few dozen members of the Jewish community of Kharkov (Kharkiv), Ukraine, made a last-minute break out of the decimated city this morning and have arrived safely in Dnipro. The Jewish community convoy included local Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries. “This morning we still wanted to only send our children out, but the missiles and bombs have been hammering the center of the city, and they were raining down all night. We were warned this might be the last chance,” says a tearful Miriam Moskovitz, who together with her husband, Kharkov chief rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, has directed Chabad of Kharkov since 1990.