For Jews living in the tri-state area, winter evokes images of snow in Central Park, skiing at the Mountain Creek resort in Vernon, and the warmth of family and community, around the fire, to offset the bitter cold like we just experienced last week during Winter Storm Stella.
But such a picturesque season is not possible for all Jews. For tens of thousands of poor, Jewish elderly people and families in parts of Europe and the former Soviet Union, the harsh elements critically exacerbate an already challenging existence.
Imagine what dropping temperatures and impassable snow feels like for the elderly, poor, or homebound who do not have proper clothing and bedding, heating supplies, shelter, and money to afford energy bills?
It can quite simply mean the difference between life and death.
And yet for 25 years, there has been an answer to howling winds, frigid chills, and the loneliness of Jews facing another dark day alone. It’s called Winter Relief and it’s a humanitarian relief effort on a global scale, made possible by our extended family of Jews living in New Jersey and around the world.
From Budapest to Odessa, from Minsk to Tashkent, this winter we provided warm blankets and jackets; wood, coal, and electric heaters; and even cash subsidies for rising utility costs to thousands of needy Jews.
These efforts are a bold expression of the ideal that all Jews are responsible for one another. But more than that, they delivered the warm comfort that comes from knowing you are not alone in a time of desperate need. This work by my organization, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Jewish humanitarian aid group, is truly a family affair.
With the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference, we ensure daily, and across 11 time zones, the dignity and critical care of 55,729 aging Nazi victims facing another winter season in lives marred by the double trauma of the Holocaust and Soviet-era persecution. Together, we are fulfilling our sacred mandate to assist Jews who have experienced unprecedented hardships.
With the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) — our operational partner with whom we provide critical food and medicine through the IFCJ Food and Medicine Lifeline — we are assisting tens of thousands of Jewish elderly across the former Soviet Union; in addition, with IFCJ and the Tikvah organization, we are reaching 2,700 Jewish seniors in Odessa, Ukraine, who would struggle through the freezing winter without our help.
With our Jewish federation partners, including the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, we’re forging ahead our longtime partnership warming needy Jews of all ages and building Jewish life in cities like Cherkassy, Ukraine, and across the region.
So the next time you pick up your sled, bundle up in your plushest winter coat, or turn on the heat without a thought to its cost, remember those Jews in need, thousands of miles away, whose lives couldn’t be more different from yours. And join us in our mission to make life better, and warmer, for them during the darkest time of the year.