As the war in Ukraine rages on, we watch the humanitarian disaster with fear and disbelief: What seemed like a world order has so quickly shattered.
We are human beings and citizens of the world, and our hearts break for all Ukrainians. As Jews, we feel responsible for the suffering and well-being of our global Jewish family, wherever they are. As Jewish Bostonians with deep relationships in our sister city of Dnipro, this conflict feels personal.
Tuesday’s bombings of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial and the Hillel chapter in Kharkiv awakened outrage and trauma that are rooted deeply in our collective Jewish psyche, and served as a chilling reminder of the massacre of 34,000 Ukrainian Jews in 1941.
If the destruction of Babyn Yar was an attack on our past – on those whose lives were already lost and whose memories are now desecrated – the attack on the Hillel chapter in Kharkiv was an attack on our future. To bomb a Hillel is to assault a symbol of vibrant Jewish life and of our next generation, to cut off the links in our chain and the Jewish leaders of tomorrow.
And then there are the deeply human, personal stories that we continue to hear on the ground – stories of horror and fear, but also of courage and resilience. Earlier in the week, one of my CJP colleagues shared this anecdote from his family in Ukraine:
“Each day is a stream of calls and text messages - ‘Are you ok? I see that fighting has broken out by Hostomel.’ ‘Are you ok? I saw your street in a Telegram video.’ ‘Are you ok? I heard that a missile struck a residential building in your neighborhood.’ Between us, between them, between their friends, each day is a blend of news, anxiety, gunfire, humor, memes, explosions, poetry, music, love, and aliveness. There’s something stoic going on to the whole nation of Ukraine – confronted with death, they are all so very alive.”
As I shared in our Community Briefing this week, I spoke with the two leaders of the Dnipro Jewish community (video below), and I saw firsthand their resilience and resolve. They are doing everything in their power to support and sustain their community along with the Ukrainians who have fled from other parts of Ukraine and taken refuge there. They also asked me to express their love and gratitude to our community – their extended family – for sending critical financial resources and support to help provide for their most basic needs.
Thanks to your generosity, in just over one week, more than 1,700 people from across our community, and outside the Jewish community, have donated over $1 million to our Ukraine Emergency Fund.
This is extraordinary.
We have already sent more than $780,000 in humanitarian aid. These funds are going both directly to our partners in Dnipro and to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).
While there is grave concern that routes to Dnipro will soon be impacted, the leader of the community, Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki, is providing food packages and hot meals for more than 10,000 people. In the past 48 hours, they have helped hundreds of Jews (mostly women and children) evacuate, while continuing to care for the homebound and elderly who cannot leave. And, with our support, hundreds of Ukrainians are already making aliyah (immigrating) to Israel.
The magnitude of destruction combined with radical unpredictability about how this will end up can leave us feeling powerless and overwhelmed. But, as Elie Wiesel (z”l) said in his 1986 Nobel lecture, “there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” We may not be able to prevent this atrocious injustice, but the generosity of this community and the outpouring of concern are, indeed, forms of protest, and they make a real difference in people’s lives.
Let us keep engaging, learning, caring, giving, and asking, “what can we do?”
Thank you, and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Marc Baker
About the Author
CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker is an educator, writer, and leadership mentor who is devoting his life to Jewish learning and building Jewish communities.