Poland and Purim at a Time of Crisis

Today is Shushan Purim, one of the more obscure holidays in the Jewish calendar. What’s this all about?

The holiday of Purim, which we celebrated yesterday, is on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar. It marks the day after the fighting ended between the Jews of the Persian Empire and the forces who were trying to implement Haman’s evil decree.

Back then, like today, the Jews were spread over a vast area, and the fighting occurred in many different places. While the bulk of the fighting ended on the 13th of Adar, it didn’t end until the 14th in the capital of Shushan. Therefore, the residents of Shushan were directed to celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar. In solidarity, it was decreed that all walled cities would also celebrate on the 15th of Adar – what we call Shushan Purim. Today, Shushan Purim focuses mainly on Jerusalem, which was known to be a walled city in the days of the Persian Empire. That is why you will see pictures of Purim celebrations in Jerusalem today, a day after Purim was celebrated around in the world.

Why did we go into this great detail about Shushan Purim? Because we just returned from Poland, together with a distinguished group of Federation leaders. In Poland, we reviewed the relief efforts of our partners in the Jewish Agency for Israel and JDC, we assessed the impact of the core and emergency funding we have provided so far, and we began to evaluate what next steps we should undertake to meet the enormous challenges of this crisis.

Though we focused our trip on Warsaw and the Poland/Ukraine border, we know that this conflict engages us on many fronts. Among these are the humanitarian needs in Ukraine itself; the refugee efforts on the Ukrainian borders with Poland, Romania, Hungary and Moldova; the risks to our brothers and sisters in Russia; and the refugee resettlement efforts already underway in Israel and soon to be underway in our own communities. In short, this is a vast crisis that will be with us for quite some time regardless of how long the war itself lasts.

We witnessed the steady flow of refugees coming across the border. As has been widely reported, it is heartbreaking to see the overwhelming number of women and children who have come alone, leaving behind husbands and fathers who are fighting the war. But we also witnessed the outpouring of support from around the world, and especially the expert and highly skilled work of our partners in bringing refugees to safety, caring for them, and helping them make aliyah or make other arrangements.

And yes, to answer the question we are frequently asked, our partners help everyone who needs help, not just our fellow Jews, though they of course know that we are there for them and will not leave until each and every Jew is safe.

Like the Purim story we just read, this is a struggle against an evil tyrant whose attacks on the people of Ukraine are a threat to the Jewish people and the whole world. There will be many twists and turns before the crisis is over and our help is no longer needed.

There is no doubt in our minds that our amazing Federation system will be there every step of the way, as we already are. We will respond to the humanitarian needs, we will help bring as many new olim to Israel as possible, we will lobby our governments to accept all Ukrainian refugees of all faiths and we will help resettle them in our countries. We will not tire, and we will not lose focus. And we will do this while continuing to support and protect those in Ethiopia waiting to get to Israel, and while building our security umbrella in North America through LiveSecure.

As we were reminded during the Covid-19 pandemic, and as we are once again experiencing in the Ukraine crisis, our ability to respond to these challenges is a direct result of the investment we make year in and year out in the infrastructure of the Jewish community – in our schools, camps, agencies and providers at home and in our global partners who enable every Jew in North America to instantly reach out and support Jews around the world.

The bravery of the Ukrainian people and of President Zelensky is reminiscent of the bravery of Esther and Mordechai. They will have our complete support. And like the example of Shushan Purim, we will not cease our efforts until the battle is fully won in all corners of the world, and until all who need our help are once again able to provide for themselves and their families.

Thank you for all you have done and will do to support our Jewish community.

Shabbat Shalom,

Mark Wilf
Chair, JFNA Board of Trustees

Eric Fingerhut
President & CEO, JFNA