Reflections from Poland and Ukraine

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Beds at a refugee center

It is our responsibility to learn from history lest it will repeat itself. This is a lesson that we take very seriously, and that we act on.

Earlier this week, I traveled back to Poland and into Ukraine with a small group of Jewish communal leaders to deliver critically needed prescription medication – including insulin – and get a first-hand update on the escalating humanitarian crisis. We met with refugees, volunteers, and staff of our partners at the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). This trip also was an opportunity to recommit to providing short- and long-term assistance to all those hurt by this horrific war.

After my first trip to Poland two weeks into the war, Board Chair David Heller and I wrote about the silence and shock we found among the refugees. How quickly things have changed since then. On this trip, the trauma and the toll from two months of unrelenting military assaults was clear to see … and hear. Those we met with this week talked of the crippling fear and anguish they carried as they moved from one hiding location to the next as the war followed them. We heard about the children who have learned to sit quietly in the dark while waiting for the next missile to strike. We heard about the people who have been essentially cut off from modern civilization – living without electricity, water, or access to information for long periods of time. We heard the devastation of people who were forced to leave loved ones behind. And we heard about heroic rescues, such as the drivers who navigated through gun fire, land mines and the Russian military in order to bring a young woman with special needs and her parents to safety.

It was truly inspiring to see the bravery, resilience, and determination of those with whom we met – from those providing humanitarian and medical assistance at the state of Israel’s Sheba Field Hospital within Ukraine, to those refugees who are now working as staff and volunteers themselves to help newly arriving refugees, to those deployed by JAFI, JDC, and the plethora of other Jewish and Israeli organizations working seamlessly together to save each life.

As one JAFI staff member explained, “It’s not about taking the refugees out and working with them during the first week or two. It’s about rescue and then working with them over time to make sure they are cared for and have a path towards the future, regardless of where their journey leads.”

We are so deeply appreciative of all who have given to our Ukraine Emergency Relief Fund already, as well as the access to medicine provided by Planned Parenthood of Northeast Ohio, Barron Pharmacy, and University Hospital’s Dr. Betul Katipoglu and Dr. David Rosenberg.

We arrived home in time to join the commemoration of Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – with more than 400 community members in person and online. The stories from Survivors and rescuers at the service, as well as those shared earlier at our Zikaron Basalon event for young professionals, served as stark reminders that behind the numbers used to measure the evil in our world are actual people and individual stories.

Each year during Yom Hashoah we proclaim, “never again.” This year, we say it louder and with even greater determination. Although the Ukrainian refugees’ experiences bring back many or those same images with which we are all too familiar, the story is not yet finished. We are all part of writing that next chapter together. Our efforts can make a world a difference. The Talmud teaches: Той хто рятує однє життя подібний тому хто рятує цілий світ (To save one life is to save the entire world).

Shabbat Shalom,

Erika B. Rudin-Luria

p.s.: Next week our community will unite to commemorate the legacy and sacrifice of Israel's fallen soldiers and terror victims at Yom Hazikaron on May 3. Then, we will celebrate the 74th anniversary of Israel’s independence on May 5 at an outdoor carnival with music, food, family activities, and more. We hope you will join us.

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