The Jewish community’s support of Ukraine needs to be ongoing

Gil Preuss, CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, records a video at the Poland-Ukraine border on March 15. | Screenshot

Gil Preuss | Special to WJW

Two weeks ago, I was in Poland, standing at its border with Ukraine. I watched families, fleeing the horrors of war, cross into Poland with all they could carry; children and pets in tow. Their anxiety and uncertainty about the future were palpable, weighing on them perhaps more than their physical belongings.

I struggled to imagine what this must feel like. How do you move forward, not knowing when — or if — you will ever be able to return home, and what might be left if you do?
Despite the streams of people pouring across the border, it was noticeably quiet. Before my arrival, I prepared myself to experience the chaos and noise that comes with crowds of people fleeing their homes. Instead, I was met with eerie silence. Perhaps they were too tired, too hungry and in such shock that all they could do was go through the motions ahead of them.

In this heavy moment, while the worst of humanity is creating and fueling this crisis and forcing innocent people from their homes, it was heartening to know that the best of humanity is there, too, ready to help. It was incredible to see the number of organizations, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s long-time partners in the region, JDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), and countless volunteers ready to assist those in need. There were about 50 tents lined up at the border, representing nearly every faith group and many organizations working shoulder to shoulder in shared purpose.

During my short visit to the region, I also had the honor of meeting three Jewish Ukrainian families receiving help at the Lublin Yeshiva in Poland. While they each had a similar story as they sought to escape constant bombing and disappearing food and water, they imagined different journeys ahead of them. One family sought to make aliyah (immigrate) to Israel, another was moving to a next resettlement point, while the third was planning to stay for a couple of weeks before hoping for a return to their home in Ukraine.

Across all three families, however, it became clear that their challenges will not end in a few days or weeks. Over the coming months, they will each face new and evolving challenges. They will face obstacles that they — and we — do not yet understand.

As such, while hard to imagine right now, we must look ahead to how we can help efforts to rebuild Ukraine. The Jewish communal response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been nothing short of amazing, but this initial effort is just a fraction of what needs to be done to support the Ukrainian Jewish community.

I am deeply grateful for the way our community continues to care for our Jewish family overseas, helping to provide food, clothing, emergency supplies and resources to keep people out of harm’s way.

As of this week, we have collected more than $1.5 million from almost 3,000 donors to support Ukraine’s Jewish community. Together with our global partners, Jewish Greater Washington is making a life-saving difference for Ukrainians — aiding those fleeing the horrors of war and others who remain in peril. We should be proud of all that we have done and vigilant as challenges continue.

Gil Preuss is the CEO of
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

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