The plight of Jews in Ukraine was brought home to the New Jersey Jewish community at a gathering in Woodbridge on Sept. 10. Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm and his wife Esther, who run the Jewish community center in the western city of Zhitomir, described the growing demand for their services, as hundreds of Jews flee the conflict in the eastern region of the country.
Approximately 30 people came to hear them and to honor members of the NJ community who have been involved in their support for two decades. Chief among those was the late Sol (Shlomo) Kramer of Elizabeth, in whose honor the Zhitomir couple named their center Chesed Shlomo. Kramer’s wife, Clara, was on hand, with their son Eli, to convey the family’s ongoing commitment. Together, they pledged $10,000. That was matched and extended by others present. According to Leonard Posnock, who cochaired the event with his wife, Freida, and Phyllis Bernstein and Robert Kuchner, a matching challenge was offered over the phone by a supporter who asked to remain anonymous.
Thanking their NJ supporters, Esther Wilhelm said, “Sol Kramer turned his own experience of suffering into support for other Jews who face hardship. And your hearts beat together for this cause.”
The rebbetzin said that when they started the center in 1994, “The Jews of Zhitomir were suffering from material and spiritual poverty.” That is no longer the case. With the religious, educational, cultural, and social programs they offer, local Jews are proud of their identity, she said. But the Russian-backed conflict has created new economic hardship. Their Alumim Children’s Home and Social Rehabilitation Center for Jewish Children is now housing around 40 youngsters whose parents are either unable to care for them or who have left them temporarily while they seek new homes.
“Many of these miserable, unfortunate refugees are decent, educated people who have had to leave homes and jobs,” she said. In the relative peace and stability of Zhitomir, at Chesed Shlomo, “they stop to catch their breath and decide where to go next. Our request of you is that you continue the legacy of Sol Kramer.”
Donations in support of the Zhitomir community can be sent to the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, which has agreed to process the funds. For more information, contact 609-655-2726, or firstname.lastname@example.org.