I had heard of the work of the Joint Distribution Committee, the overseas arm of the American Jewish community helping to sustain Jews and Jewish life in remote recesses of the Former Soviet Union. In the 1970’s and 80’s we rallied to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate. Now we are involved in the largest scale effort to keep them and the spark of Judaism alive in areas we had written off as being impossible to sustain. In the words of Rabbi Asher Ostrin of the Joint, “We are working to reclaim Jews for the Jewish people.”
In a day and age when we are constantly thinking about how to harness technology and use new techniques, the truth is we are doing what our ancestors before us have done throughout the millennia: creating the means and mechanism to support each other. Through it all, we remain a community with a unique understanding of our responsibility to care for each other, and to provide for the needs of the weakest among us.
I am in Kiev with the Rabbinic Cabinet of the JFNA. With 32 colleagues we fanned out in 7 vans across the city of Kiev to visit some of the people the Joint helps to support. I visited an older woman confined to a bed who receives a supplement to her pension, home visits, a health care aide 12 hours a week and other support. Another visit to a young child confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy was reflective of the 160,000 Jews in some 2,900 centers across the FSU who receive help as a result of our donations to Federation.
Another facet of the work being done in Kiev are programs sponsored by the Jewish Agency and Birthright to work with and provide educational outreach to the young, as well as to seniors and others, so that they will develop an appreciation and love for Israel and Judaism.
Also published on Medium.