My heart is full. As a member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metro-West NJ’s Overseas Committee, I just participated in a series of Skype calls with four of our partners in Ukraine. We spoke with Dmitry Spivakovsky, the head of the Cherkassy Hesed; Peter Rashkovsky, head of the Cherkassy regional association; Anna Michurina of ORT, Odessa; and Rafael Kruskal, the head of Tikva, Odessa. The Overseas Committee arranged these calls to reach out to our partners, to see how they’re doing in this time of trouble and to see what, if anything, we can do now.
What struck me so profoundly was that each of these calls ended the same way: from Dmitry: “Thank you for your big heart. It is so important to our community that you care.” From Peter: “Thank you for your Jewish soul. Thank you for your soulful heart. We are so very, very, thankful.” From Anna: “It is important to hear that we have friends.” And from Rafael: “Thank you for caring.”
All four are leaders in their Jewish communities that have needs most of us can’t begin to imagine, needs that are exacerbated by the current crisis. Yet what they are thanking us for most is not the money (although they certainly do that, too) but for caring and for being there.
Last summer I went on GMW’s mission to Ukraine and, along with members of our committee as well as members of the larger GMW community, I met many of the individuals who comprise these communities. And what struck me then, and resonates even more now, is that despite everything —the pogroms, the Shoa, the subsequent years of communist rule — the spark of Judaism remained alive and today has been rekindled and strengthened. These are people who share our values, our history, our traditions and treasure our connection to them. More than anything, in this time of trouble, what moves them, what gives them comfort, is that we are there and that we care.
Six weeks ago our committee met to discuss the urgent requests for help reluctantly made by our Ukraine partners — help for money for food, medicine, gas to heat their homes, and for money to buy security cameras and guards for their Hesed centers and schools. I have never been so proud to be a member of our community. Within 48 hours, not only did we approve the requests, not only did the
GMW executive committee approve our recommendations, but Federation immediately, and without hesitation, wired the money: $5,000 to Cherkassy, $5,000 to the Cherkassy region, $5,000 for the ORT school, and $30,000 to Tikva, Odessa.
As an independent scholar of the Holocaust, I am all too aware of America’s inadequate response during that dreadful time period. Whether it was for lack of understanding, fear of overt and vocal anti-Semitism at home, or for some other reason, our American community failed to do what was necessary. We failed to act. We failed to try to save our European family.
Today we are doing just that. Today we are reaching out — with words, with money, with our hearts. This is the definition of ahava. This is tikun olam.
Carol A. Simon