Ukraine crisis photo courtesy JDC

Nearly 300 Jewish communal leaders joined a JFNA conference call on the escalating situation in Ukraine on Monday, March 3. Leaders from JFNA partner agencies the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), World ORT, and NCSJ: National Conference Supporting Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia summarized their organizations’ efforts to assist Ukraine’s estimated 300,000 Jews, stressing the dynamic nature of the situation and the need for facts to prevail over alarmism.

“What’s important is to prepare,” said Mark Levin, executive director of NCSJ. According to Levin, of all the potential threats facing the Jewish community, including a provocative synagogue attack in late February and the presence of far-right party members in the new provisional government, the greatest is an economic downturn. Such a situation would endanger not only the Jewish community’s most vulnerable, including children and the elderly, but also working families.

Economic stability is also integral to organizational operation in Ukraine, said Ofer Glantz, director of JDC’s Former Soviet Union department. JDC’s three-pronged approach to the situation includes providing at-home services to the elderly, among them numerous Holocaust survivors; safeguarding JDC clients, employees, and Hesed welfare centers; and ensuring that sufficient financial resources are available in the event of a banking crisis. With their attention expanding from Kiev to the 17,000 Jews in Crimea, JDC is hoping for the best but preparing for all circumstances, including potential evacuation.

Personal security for World ORT’s 6,000 students has been at the forefront of World ORT’s agenda, said David Benish, head of the organization’s Representative Office for CIS, Central Asia, Caucasian States & Baltic States. Though World ORT’s 15 schools, vocational training centers, and programs are still open and operating, the need for additional armed guards and security systems is urgent. Violence is never far from their minds; the community mourned together when one student’s father was killed by a sniper during clashes in Kiev.

Roman Polonsky, Director of the Jewish Agency’s Unit for Russian-Speaking Jewry, related that as of Monday, the situation in Crimea was calm. “Our offices are open in all Ukraine and we are working as usual,” he said. Given the sensitive nature of its work, the Jewish Agency is keeping a low profile. Yet still, inquiries from Jews in Crimea regarding aliyah have doubled. The Jewish Agency has also made allocations from its Emergency Assistance Fund to bolster security at 97 Jewish institutions across the country, including synagogues, JDC Hesed centers, and World ORT schools. “Cooperation has been outstanding,” said Misha Galperin, President and CEO of the Jewish Agency International Development.

All organization heads thanked Jewish Federations for its continued support, recognizing that their work would be impossible without core unrestricted dollars.

Listen to the full conference call here.