They could not stand on the sidelines any longer.
With more than 10 million people having fled their homes in Ukraine, a couple of South Florida rabbis felt compelled to help in person.
Rabbis Jonathan Berkun and Guido Cohen of the Aventura-Turnberry Jewish Center organized a relief mission and flew to Poland to deliver humanitarian aid.
We spoke to them via Zoom as they were visiting a refugee settlement center at the Ukraine-Poland border.
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“It is difficult to describe in words, which is why we’re trying to speak the message, convey the images of what we are witnessing, it’s tremendous amount of human suffering, homelessness and need of epic proportion,” Berkun said.
The group of nine people, including four other rabbis from North Carolina, California, Toronto and Argentina, schlepped 40 70-pound duffel bags of relief supplies with them to Poland to distribute among the refugees, along with $60,000 worth of medical supplies which are being sent into Ukraine.
“We have to take into account that 94% of the refugees are women and children because the men are staying in Ukraine and fighting the invasion,” Cohen said.
The rabbis brought some of the supplies to the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, Poland, which has become a nonstop refugee relief center.
“7 days a week, people are coming in, taking whatever they need for free, that’s food, medicine, toiletries, sanitary items, and we ask whatever else they need, how can we help them,” said Jonathan Ornstein, the director of the Krakow JCC.
“No one is asked about their beliefs or their origin when they come for help and 100% of the money we are raising is going to these organizations,” Cohen explained, pointing out that their effort is not targeted solely at Jewish refugees.
The resettlement center which they visited has many rows of cots, areas for nursing mothers, playgrounds for kids, and Polish phone companies are even giving out free SIM cards.
“They can use transportation here for free, the generosity of the Polish people here, I have no words to describe,” Cohen said. “So how are we helping? We came here, first of all, one of the things we are doing to help is interviews like this, trying to generate more awareness in our community in Miami.”
It’s all about bearing witness and keeping the story alive.
“I do believe that in the 24-hour news cycle, where every single headline is described as breaking news, and with the passage of time, it’s very easy to lose sight of how this crisis continues, and while it is urgent right now there’s also going to be long-term ramifications,” Berkun said.
The long-term needs of millions of refugees trying to restart their lives after losing everything will be enormous. There are, of course, many organizations working hard to assist those refugees. You can donate to the rabbis’ effort at ATJC.org.