By Leah Garber
The horrors of the war in Ukraine are intensifying daily. Our eyes see the pictures, our hearts feel the sorrow, our ears hear the distress and despair and cries. Our minds, though, can barely wrap themselves around the fact that in 2022 three million refugees—innocent people, now victims of a tyrant—are running from what, until just a few weeks ago, were safe, comfortable homes and now are heaps of lifeless ruins.
Beyond Ukraine life continues. Despite our shock in the face of the horrors, world leaders are, for various reasons, limited in responses that would end the war.
We, the Jewish people, once were refugees. Running from a burning Europe, we knocked on doors and begged for gates to open for us. We know what it is to be victims of war; our parents and grandparents were among them. And so it is that we must heed the call of innocent Ukrainian women and children, opening our gates for them.
At this moment, more than 100 officials from the office of the Israeli Foreign Ministry are on the borders of Ukraine to locate Israeli citizens and bring them safely home. What’s more, yesterday, the Israeli government approved the deployment of a field hospital to Ukraine to treat refugees. Led by a delegation of medical personnel from Israel’s health system, the hospital expects to operate for about a month.
This humanitarian mission to treat Ukrainian refugees—named “Kochav Meir” after Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, a native of Ukraine and founder of the state’s national assistance agency—will include an emergency room, delivery room, and treatment wards. Its laboratory and x-ray facilities will use remote technologies connected to the Sheba Hospital in Israel. The Israeli government, with assistance from the Schusterman Foundation, is funding the $21 million NIS needed to establish and run the hospital.
In addition to the government’s efforts to ensure that the thousands of refugees—Jews and people of other faiths—who are arriving in Israel do so in an orderly way and receive the care they need, there are endless private initiatives being undertaken by social workers, physicians, first-aid specialists, and individuals collecting donations of medical equipment, clothing, food and other items refugees may need. In another initiative, a group of Israeli educators arrived earlier this week at the border of Lviv, Ukraine, to meet and greet refugees crossing into Poland. There, the Israeli first-aid tents offer medical treatment, warm meals and clothing, accommodations, money, and most importantly, a hug and sympathy from a Jewish heart.
Among these refugees are Vera and Zeev, 95-year-old Holocaust survivors. Zeev is blind, but after 30 hours of travel, they finally arrived at the border. My brother and sister-in-law are members of the Israeli delegation at the Ukraine-Poland border. Today my brother wrote that he drove Vera and Zeev to Krakow, helped them board a plane, and now they are headed away from the horrors of war—on their way home to Israel.
Of course, I wish there was no need for Vera and Zeev and countless others to flee their homes and their country, and I wish war refugees could remain only in the dark days of our past. As long as there is human pain, however, it is comforting to know that Israel—and much of the rest of the world—will not stand idly by but will step up to aid fellow humans in need.
To support efforts to aid Ukrainian refugees, contribute to the emergency fundraising effort of the JDC, a nonpolitical organization that focuses solely on humanitarian aid and building Jewish life. Substantial resources will be required, and contributions can be made directly or via a local Jewish Federation.
Leah Garber is a vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.