Heller Named Chair for Next Phase of JFNA Ukraine’s Aid Campaign
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by Becky Raspe
Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News
J. David Heller, immediate past board chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, was chosen to chair the next phase of the Jewish Federations of North America’s emergency campaign for Ukraine aid.
The appointment comes six months after Russia invaded Ukraine.
In this role, Heller will work to engage with federations across the system to meet the ongoing needs on the ground. In the past, he has also served on the board of the International Joint Distribution Committee; as board president of the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland; and as president of the board of the Ohio Jewish Communities. He has been a member of JFNA’s board for four years now and is a member of the executive committee as a life trustee of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s board of trustees.
As he steps into this new role, Heller told the Cleveland Jewish News by email that he is “honored” to take on the responsibility.
“I am honored to be able to have the opportunity to ask my fellow Jews to join me in the mitzvah of helping other Jews in need,” said Heller, who lives in Moreland Hills, and attends Jewish Family Experience in University Heights and is a member of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike. “We all have the responsibility to help our Jewish brothers and sisters around the globe, and I am merely a messenger to help people in the effort.”
With his fundraising background, Heller said he believes helping Ukraine is “straightforward.” He was campaign chair in Cleveland for the 2013 and 2014 annual campaigns and served as board chair from 2019 to 2022.
“The goal is straightforward, raise the money needed to help address the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II,” he told the Cleveland Jewish News.
JFNA board chair Julie Platt said in the release that she has “no doubt” Heller will successfully lead the cause.
“A humanitarian relief project of this scale requires experienced, dedicated, and visionary leadership,” she said. “J. David Heller’s distinguished career as a lay leader effectively positions him for this important role, and I have no doubt that he will successfully lead the next phase of Jewish Federations’ emergency campaign for Ukraine aid so that we can continue to provide vital aid where it is most needed.”
In the past six months, $61 million has been distributed to its core partners – The Jewish Agency for Israel, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and World ORT, as well as dozens of other organizations providing critical rescue and relief to Ukrainian refugees, according to a news release from JFNA. That funding has supported emergency operational costs, temporary housing, transportation costs, security, humanitarian support, trauma relief, aliyah and absorption, the release stated.
According to the release, that support includes 1,212 tons of distributed medical equipment, clothing, food and hygiene products; 239,851 mouths fed; 80,817 people evacuated from danger zones; 399,902 calls for assistance received via special hot lines; and 32,325 new immigrants arriving in Israel from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
In addition to providing humanitarian aid for refugees, JFNA successfully advocates for expanded refugee rights and resettlement in the United States and provides grants to support displaced Ukrainians. In July, the organization launched a $1 million Ukrainian Resettlement Grant Initiative with matching funds from the Shapiro Foundation and the Companied Jewish Philanthropies, Boston’s Jewish federation. JFNA has also placed 90 Russian-speaking Jews in volunteer placements to support Ukrainian refugees in Poland and Hungary, the release said.
His involvement in this cause hits a personal note, Heller said. Shortly after the war broke out in Ukraine, he traveled to Poland with a small group of Jewish communal leaders to show support for Ukrainian refugees.
“I was deeply moved by the stories I heard from those who let everyone and everything in their lives behind at a moment’s notice to find safety,” he said. “And I was in awe of the heroic efforts by our international partners as they cared for, and continue to care for, all those affected by the war.”
Not only is this cause important to him as an individual, but is a key effort that aligns with Jewish values, Heller said.
“This effort ensures that those who have fled, or are feeling, the war will continue to get the support they need,” he said. “It is important that JNFA continue to support a cause like this because it is central to our Jewish values. ‘Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh’ – all Jews are responsible for one another.”
To get involved, visit donate.jewishcleveland.org/Ukraine. For new or increased gifts to the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Campaign for Jewish Needs, which runs through early December, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation will make a matching gift to this fund. To learn more, visit campaignforjewishneeds.org/matches/.