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Lifting Up Displaced Israelis During Crisis

Open house for Israeli families Dec. 11 at JCC Mid-Westchester. Contributed Photo.

Since the crisis in Israel broke out on October 7 of last year, Westchester Jewish Coalition for Immigration (WJCI) has supported Israelis who have temporarily relocated to the Westchester and NYC areas by coordinating emergency support, including housing, medical, dental, community connections, and other urgent needs, while mobilizing local volunteers to help. 

October 7 was one of the darkest days in modern Israeli history; 22 communities were infiltrated by Hamas terrorists, leaving thousands injured, 1,200 murdered, and 240 abducted to Gaza, including babies, the elderly, and entire families. 

To date, UJA-Federation of New York has allocated more than $71 million to support the people of Israel. WJCI is a recipient of a UJA grant to assist in this effort in the Westchester/Hudson Valley. WJCI has been using the allocated funds granted to help displaced Israelis needing temporary assistance after fleeing danger and has been urgently responding to requests since October 7. In addition, local volunteers have donated clothing, use of automobiles, computers, and other essential items to help ease displaced Israelis whose lives were uprooted on the day of the attacks. 

Since December 2021, WJCI has mobilized the local Jewish community to welcome refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine. As a result of that work, a network of resources, volunteers, synagogues, and local organizations is now available to WJCI to support displaced Israelis. 

“We gently shifted our mission after October 7 to enable us to help displaced Israelis. WJCI uses an ethics-based framework to mobilize our community to channel obligation into action, and we decided that it is our responsibility as a Jewish organization to stand up for our brothers and sisters in Israel who are suffering,” said Holly Rosen Fink, President and Co-Founder of WJCI. “The response from community members combined with our ability to help financially because of the grant from UJA has been powerful. It has been a glimmer of hope for all of us during these dark times.”

Examples of WJCI’s assistance include securing temporary housing for six families, furnishing these apartments through donations from community members, helping to enroll children in Jewish schools through community connections, paying for after-school activities for Israeli children who fled the war and are experiencing trauma, providing a camera to enable an individual to work and make money, paying rent for the mother of a young Israeli woman who died at the Nova festival who came to finish her Master’s degree at Hunter College, paying medical and dental bills for Israelis who are here as temporary visitors and whose travel insurance does not cover all costs, and more. In addition, WJCI has held two events at JCC Mid-Westchester for displaced Israelis, providing them with a socialization opportunity and a way to learn about available resources. 

Other partners in this work have included The Westchester Jewish Council, Common Point Queens, Congregation Rodeph Shalom, Scarsdale Synagogue, The Jewish Board, Hebrew Free Loan Society, Chabads of Chappaqua, Pleasantville, and Armonk, Neighbors for Refugees, WJCS, and others. WJCI is also part of a local collaboration called B’Yachad Westchester, which came together to help families during this challenging transition. 

Many of the families WJCI helped early on in the war have gone back to Israel; others who live in parts of Israel that have been shattered or remain under threat are still living here. 

WJCI helped David, a 25-year-old native of Ukraine who survived that war and then relocated to Israel to endure another war and is now in America. WJCI has helped him by securing an AirBnb for six weeks, purchasing a camera through donations to help him pursue a career as a photographer, and providing other funds and contacts to help him get on his feet and ease his transition. “After leaving two places being bombed daily, it is a relief to be somewhere I feel safe,” he said. “WJCI has helped me every step of the way. The generosity from the WJCI team and their volunteers has restored my faith in humanity.” 

WJCI also launched its annual initiative, HIAS Refugee Shabbat 2024, on February 2-3, which many local synagogues are observing until May of this year, with many displaced Israelis speaking about their experiences to educate the community about what they have been through and to inspire community members to stand up and do something to help. For those who want to join WJCI in its efforts, please get in touch with info@wjci.org.

About the Author
Holly Rosen Fink is President and Co-Founder of Westchester Jewish Coalition for Immigration.
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