Co-authored by Jewish Federations of North America President & CEO Eric Fingerhut
We are far from the only ones to note that we just marked the one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. The impact of the war is heart-rending, with countless deaths, unimaginable destruction and millions displaced. But we should also use this anniversary to acknowledge the incredible response of the Jewish community as a whole, and especially our amazing Jewish Federation system.
In this past week’s Torah reading, Terumah, the Lord commands for “everyone whose heart inspires them” to bring gifts for the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary where God will dwell as he accompanies the Israelites in their long journey through the wilderness. [Exodus 25: 1-2].
The Hasidic masters teach that a gift given with a whole heart, as the Torah portion describes, is “lifted up” in a way that elevates and ennobles both the recipient and the giver. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z’’l reflects, “You lift it up, then it lifts you up. The best way of scaling the spiritual heights is simply to give in gratitude for the fact that you have been given.”
Thanks to the generosity of so many, we’ve truly scaled the heights. The total contributions of Jewish Federations across North America is impossible to capture in numbers alone, yet the numbers are breathtaking: Every single community in the Federation system came together and raised a total of $85 million in emergency funds above and beyond the annual support that keeps our Jewish rescue and relief system in place and ready to respond – nearly a quarter of a million dollars per day. Thanks to their generosity, half a million people received some form of humanitarian aid, 700,000 meals were distributed, 65,000 made aliyah, 130,000 received medical care, 4,000 medical and mental health professionals were trained, and 180,000 Ukrainian newcomers to the US were supported by our political advocacy.
Through our innovative Volunteer Hub, we have also already sent more than 100 volunteers to enable Ukrainian refugees in Europe to access basic needs like childcare and trauma counseling. Through our refugee resettlement initiative, we have empowered our local partner agencies to help thousands of Ukrainians resettle in North America. And we dried more tears, held more babies, and gave more hugs than anyone could possibly count.
It’s moments like this that remind us who we are and why we’re here.
The war is far from over and neither is our work. There are millions of displaced people. Much of Ukraine is in ruins. We are bracing for a possible new wave of Russian Jewish refugees. And there are too many who need daily help to make ends meet or to receive the food and medicine they need to survive.
We will not abandon them. And we will continue to help not just out of obligation, but out of gratitude for the fact that we can help. We will do so with our whole heart, and we will be lifted up by this work as much as those who receive our help are lifted up.
Julie Platt is the Chair of the Board of Jewish Federations of North America
Eric Fingerhut is the CEO & President of Jewish Federations of North America