(April 13, 2022, JNS Wire)
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 threw the region into turmoil, instigating the largest humanitarian crisis Europe has experienced in decades. The conflict also threatens the existence of Ukraine’s Jewish community that had been reestablished following its almost complete destruction in the Holocaust.
To help save the community and address its urgent needs, Jewish organizations across the United States quickly took action. Among these efforts, the Orthodox Union has helped raise more than $4.5 million (as of April 12).
The early stages of the effort raised more than $2.5 million to meet the immediate needs of those affected by the war. Soon after, a network of Orthodox Jewish groups, including the Rabbinical Council of America, the National Council of Young Israel and the Orthodox Union began the Shuls United for Ukrainian Jewry campaign, encouraging synagogues to establish their own fundraising drives using the OU’s crowdfunding platform.
To date, more than 100 synagogues across North America are participating in the campaign. Together they have raised more than $2 million, with a cumulative goal of more than $4 million.
Because the crowdfunding platform is OU-developed and owned, there are no commissions or service charges, and the Orthodox Union has assumed all overhead and operating costs, including dedicating six full-time and 11 part-time staff to the project. “Donors can feel good knowing every dollar they give has a direct impact on the people who need it most,” says Becca Zebovitz, OU director of donor services.
The organizations involved in raising money for and delivering relief to the refugees soon discovered there were critical logistical issues that had to be addressed, including creating systems for sourcing and delivering kosher food, eliminating redundancies, and collecting data to inform resource allocation.
Among those who sought to address these issues was Simon Taylor, the OU’s national director of community projects and partnerships. Working together with the Vaad Hatzalah and Agudath Israel and lay leaders within the OU, he set to work on a multi-pronged effort to streamline these processes. This began with a week-long Vaad mission to Eastern Europe to survey on-the-ground needs with the help of groups such as Yad Yisroel, Shema Yisrael, and Chabad, all of whom have had a long-standing presence in the region. Those efforts resulted in a kosher food supply operation managed by the OU with partnership and support of the Vaad Hatzalah.
“The lay and professional leadership of the OU’s Community Projects and Partnerships departments have done incredible work to identify needs and to bring relief to those displaced and those still under fire,” OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer said. “They are working collaboratively with the Vaad Hatzalah, Agudath Israel and others, and with many of our OU-certified companies. Virtually overnight, they have established a logistics and supply operation that is providing kosher food for more than 20,000 people in communal clusters in and around Ukraine.”
The collaborative efforts have included:
- Establishing a call center in Vienna with full-time English-, Hebrew- and Russian-speaking staff to make contact with and assess the needs of almost 100 communities of Jewish refugees;
- Renting warehouses in Budapest and Iași, an area near Moldova, to serve as central distribution points, and hiring staff to oversee logistics for storing and delivering food to communities in need;
- Creating logistics teams in the United States, United Kingdom, Israel and Europe – totaling 30 people – to coordinate and transport food and medicine procurement, air freight, customs documentation and clearance;
- Working with Delta Airlines to secure reduced air freight fees for food and medical supplies;
- Leveraging OU Kosher’s network of manufacturers across North America and Europe to source and solicit donations of more than 200 tons of food and medical supplies, including 5,900 ready-to-eat kosher meals and:
- grape juice;
- kosher meat and chicken;
- canned tuna;
- candies and crackers;
- over-the-counter pain and cough medications
- first-aid supplies such as gauze, slings, thermometers, antiseptic creams and spray, and more.
Beyond food, medicine, transportation and other critical resources, the OU sought to provide spiritual sustenance for refugee children in Ukraine by organizing New York-area day school and yeshiva students to create Purim cards that have been distributed to children in Ukraine. More for Passover are on the way; view the Purim cards and write a Pesach message to refugees at ou.org/purimcard/. Additionally, the Orthodox Union sent thousands of donated toys for distribution to refugee children and those in orphanages.
Said Rabbi Hauer, “The principle of “kol Yisrael areivim zeh la-zeh” (all Jews are responsible for each other) has been on vivid display in Klal Yisrael’s response to the Ukraine crisis. This has been true not only of the sense of responsibility for each other, but also – equally significant – in the organizational collaboration and partnerships.”
Contributions of any amount may be donated at ou.org/ukraine