As I write this, I have been in Poland for a little more than a day. These past 30 hours have been some of the most rewarding hours of my life. You see, Federation President Harry A. Platt and I were able to take each of you with us on this trip—your love, support, donations, and thoughts have been with us every step of the way. We have seen things we will never forget. We met people. We heard their stories. We cried with them. We hugged them.
We stood at the Medyka, Ukraine-Poland border and watched as people came across to freedom and safety while leaving their brothers, sons, and fathers behind to fight a war. We watched the elderly come across in wheelchairs and receive immediate medical attention from JDC and The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI)—the first tents to greet the refugees crossing the border. We watched mothers and children receive assistance with all they could carry across the border. We saw their pets, their strollers, their belongings, and the exhaustion on their faces. We saw the volunteers at the border offer them food, clothing, backpacks, and transportation. There are many refugees who cross into Poland for food and supplies to take back to Ukraine because they cannot get what is needed in Ukraine.
There was so much emotion at the border. We felt sadness, hope, fear, and immense gratitude for being there in the moment.
We then left the border and went to the Shemesh Refugee Center down the road, where thousands of refugees are staying in huge rooms with cots from wall-to-wall. Entering the refugee center was a brutal reality check—and something we will never forget. The people staying there don’t want to be far from Ukraine because they still have family there fighting in the war. Rooms and cots at the refugee center are assigned based on which country someone might want to immigrate to. However, so many families don’t want to go anywhere but back to Ukraine.
JDC, JAFI, and Hadassah are on-site to assist refugees with all their arrangements. The work these organizations are doing is unbelievable. Hadassah is providing the healthcare in the refugee center. This is where your donations to our Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey go: To our Global Connections partners JDC and JAFI, and Hadassah, who are providing crisis response care on the border to get everyone fleeing Ukraine everything they need. It is chaotic, sad, and beautiful all at the same time.
We met Andre during our travels. He is from Kyiv, Ukraine. When the war broke out, he immediately moved his mother to Israel with the help of JAFI, which our Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey funds each year with your donations to our annual JFund campaign. Andre’s mother is now safe in Israel, but his father, 8-year-old sister, and other family members are still in Kyiv. Andre is now working for JAFI at the Poland border, where he waits for when his whole family will be safe.
Harry and I want to thank each and every one of you for all of your words, your dollars, your donations of medical supplies, and your support. We were so proud to bring over 1,000 pounds of supplies with us to the Poland-Ukraine border. We saw firsthand the impact these supplies will make. We know the difference each of you make— we are forever grateful and carry your hearts with us always.
There is so much more to share about our trip, including meeting with 200 Ukrainian refugees who were making Aliyah to Israel in the coming days and hearing their stories of war and escape from Mariupol and other hard-hit areas of Ukraine. We will continue to tell their stories with our community… stay tuned.