Rescue and Relief Work With Ukraine

The war in Ukraine, which started on February 24 of this year, has taken a massive toll on this European state that broke away from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Russia’s invasion of the country and occupation of Luhansk, Donetsk and many other parts of Ukraine (particularly in the east) has brought about levels of death, destruction and human misery unseen in that area of the globe since World War II. One of the most immediate effects of the invasion was to create a humanitarian crisis, as civilians fled from areas of the nation that were either under attack or where attacks were threatened.

Fleeing the War

This crisis has resulted in a massive wave of refugees, who in many cases left their homes with nothing more than their children and the clothes they were wearing. Their destinations have been varied, but many have sought to relocate to NATO or NATO-allied nations, including Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel. The total number of refugees from the invasion so far has been estimated to be more than eight million; at least 60 percent of refugee households have included children among their numbers.

How Shavei Israel Helpss

One of the organizations that’s undertaken a rescue and relief campaign to assist Jewish refugees from the invasion is Shavei Israel, a foundation created by Israeli-American entrepreneur and political activist Michael Freund to help Jews and Jewish communities.

Shavei Israel’s mission is to locate Jewish people who have become separated or estranged from the original “Ten Lost Tribes” of Israel and assist them, as well as other descendants of Jews, with returning and reconnecting to their ancestral roots, including via aliyah, a process of immigration to Israel. Shavei Israel also helps individuals and converts to Judaism become part of mainstream Jewish and Israeli communities.

In some cases, the Jews Shavei Israel helps sthose who have been forced to hide their identity for reasons of persecution, either at the hands of religious groups or various governments. In certain cases, these Jews were forcibly assimilated into other cultures or religions. Since its founding, Shavei Israel has worked to accomplish its mission via Shavei-affiliated rabbis who are posted in select locales, including Brazil; Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, and Sevilla in Spain; Belmonte in northern Portugal, San Nicandro in southern Italy; Krakow and Wroclaw in Poland; and in Mizoram and Manipur, in Northeast India.

In Jerusalem, Shavei Israel operates Machon Miriam, a Spanish-language “conversion and return institute.” Dozens of Portuguese and Spanish Jews graduate from Machon Miriam every year and undergo formal religious conversion by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. It also runs Machon Milton, a similar program for English-speakers.

War Damages

In the early part of the war, Russia shelled the Babyn Yar Holocaust War Memorial near Kyiv, where one of the largest mass killings of Jews took place during World War II. While it was not yet complete, the Memorial was planned to be opened in 2025 or 2026. A museum at the site caught fire, five people were killed and there was extensive damage to the 140-acre grounds.

It’s worth noting that the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish, and the country has a significant Jewish population. When the Russians shelled the Babyn Yar site, Zelensky called the act “beyond humanity.”

“What is the point of saying ‘never again’ for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar?” asked Zelensky rhetorically in a tweet. “At least 5 killed. History repeating…”

Helping in Ukraine

In Ukraine, Shavei Israel worked in cooperation with the Jewish Community of Kyiv and the Chief Rabbinate of the Ukraine to help fund at least a dozen buses used to transport more than 500 Ukrainian Jews away from war zones, including (and especially) the eastern parts of the country, which were particularly hard-hit by Russian tanks and shelling. In the cities of Kharkiv and Odessa, Shavei Israel volunteers and activists distributed food and medicine to elderly, needy and homebound Jews.

Helping in Poland and Israel

In terms of refugees, Shavei Israel has provided desperately needed financial support to the Jewish community of Poland, which was overwhelmed by the influx of Ukrainian Jews fleeing the fighting. In Israel, the organization partnered with the municipality of Nof HaGalil in the northern part of the country, and distributed dozens of refrigerators, microwave ovens, beds and linen sets to the new immigrants to ease their absorption, as many had emigrated with nothing more than the shirts on their backs.

“The Jewish people are a family,” Shavei Israel founder and chairman Michael Freund has declared, “and when a member of the family is in distress, it is our responsibility to assist them. We will continue to do what we can to help Ukrainian Jews get through the current crisis.”

Whether it’s transporting refugees who are fleeing the war or assisting communities that are affected by its fallout, Shavei Israel has provided resources and manpower to Jews in need. One can only hope that this abhorrent and atrocious conflict ends soon, so the displacement of so many people can be at least partially reversed.