THE ASSOCIATED held the community’s first Birthright Alumni event last night at the Maryland Institute College of Art. The college is hosting an exhibit from the Bezalel Art School in Israel. More than 30 alumni were in attendance to network, meet (and reunite). Most stayed for the showing of “Waltz with Bashir,” which was held after the event.
Check out these pictures (more to come on Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/theassociated):
It is only a few days since we received this letter from a JDC colleague, Asher Ostrin, writing from the frigid FSU. It brings into sharp focus the importance of THE ASSOCIATED Annual Campaign as a critical partner in reaching every Jew in need, wherever they are—even in the most remote, isolated regions of the world.
Have a good week,
From: Ostrin Asher
Subject: Field Briefing February 10, 2012
There has been a great deal in the media over the last two weeks about the cold snap in Europe. Michael Geller in our NY office put out a wonderful press release about the JDC response in places like Bulgaria and Ukraine. Unquestionably, lives are being saved.
During this time I was in St Petersburg, Moscow, and Minsk. On my return to Israel, people who heard I was there stopped me in the street and ask what it’s like to be in that kind of cold. They hear about the temperatures of minus 18 (Fahrenheit) and shake their heads in wonder. They comment how they are personally dealing with the unseasonably low (!) temperatures in Israel during this period, and then ask what it’s like to be in places where it is colder than that, to an unfathomable extent. I was uncomfortable describing it, but was not sure why. After much thought, I think that I now understand, and I would like to share it here.
Simply put, in order to really understand what it means to experience this cold, and the importance of the JDC response, even as spelled out in the press release, one must understand the general conditions in which many of these people live. The bitter cold was difficult to cope with for me: at -18 degrees, no amount of insulation keeps you warm, because part of your body is directly exposed to the elements. At a minimum your eyes burn. It is difficult to walk on the sheets of ice that cover all outdoor surfaces. The transition from a warm building or car to the outside shocks your system. It creates some perspiration, which freezes on contact with the air outside the moment you step out the door. Ice forms on your face. When you speak outdoors your teeth literally feel the piercing cold, exacerbated by the wind. The cold is, in a word, unpleasant.
But for the elderly in the FSU, and elsewhere in the JDC world, the circumstances in which they live make this cold spell not simply unpleasant, but life threatening. When we read about the JDC response, we need to factor in the following:
1. In the FSU, an estimated 15% of our 160,000 clients live in what we call the “periphery”. By that, we mean primitive conditions in villages that are from a different era. Many of these people do not have indoor plumbing. Not only do they have outhouses, but a not insignificant few draw drinking water from wells. Once hardy, these now fragile people need to brave the elements to address their basic human needs several times a day.
2. Eligibility for welfare assistance from the Hesed generally has two factors that are considered: physical mobility, and pension income. The condition of their physical dwelling is not taken into account. Needless to say, windows are not properly sealed in most apartments, even in large urban settings; roofs that have gone years without repair have holes in them that let in cold air and dampness; ancient heating elements often break down; any of these will generally not make one eligible for assistance. Efforts are made to provide assistance to these Jews who are not clients, but are not in a position to address these issues. Lives are at stake but budgets are limited. Hasadim that barely have the resources to support those already on their caseload, need to do outreach during these emergency conditions.
3. Pipes freeze and frequently burst in these temperatures. There are emergency numbers for plumbers in some large cities, at prices with which we are all familiar. Not outside of these cities. If your pipes go, there is simply no recourse.
4. Ill during a weather emergency? No house calls. And no way to get to a doctor.
5. In smaller towns, let alone villages, power outages in these circumstances are frequent. An elderly woman, who is not well, is housebound due to the extreme weather conditions, in a cold setting with leaks from improperly sealed windows and doors, who is then plunged into the dark when her power goes. And there is no way to contact anyone on the outside. This is not an isolated example - there are literally hundreds of people who are serviced by Hasadim for whom this nightmare is a reality.
6. When we discuss the needs of our clients, we talk about food and medicine, and some other issues. Clothing is not generally mentioned. And so as their clothing becomes increasingly tattered and worn with age, it is rarely replaced. Putting on that extra layer to protect against the cold inside is often far less effective than one would expect given the state of their clothing.
7. Often supplies into these villages are cut off when the weather becomes extreme. So even people who normally rely on a neighbor to bring a loaf of bread or some potatoes to address their hunger, find it impossible under these conditions. Other villagers buy stocks for the winter before the weather turns bad. If you are always living on the edge, and barely can support yourself each month, you don’t have access to funds to prepare yourself for the difficult times ahead.
So yes, I found it very cold in the FSU this week and last. But we need to be aware of how this is a relative condition. In the same temperature, my cold was not theirs.
Our field offices have sent in reports over the last few days about conditions, and what select Hasadim are doing to provide support. There are numerous individual stories, each presenting its own kind of challenge, and descriptions of the ingenuity, creativity, and commitment of Hesed and JDC staff to ensure that these folks are safe and cared for. In some instances the challenges are so daunting as to make one wonder how they manage, but they do. I do want to share with you one story that perhaps sums it all up- how there are no limits to the ways in which help can be proffered. But before doing that, one more thought that came to mind as I monitored the development of the problem and the Hesed response.
Anyone who follows JDC knows of the Hesed system. It is the platform for providing support for needy Jewish elderly in the FSU.
What is not always so clear is the nature of the Hesed. It isn’t a welfare program. It’s not simply an organization that reaches across the expanse of the FSU. It is an institution. And that is very significant.
What I mean by that is that it is stable, is not dependent on any given individual for its wellbeing, has a well-defined mission, has people committed to its functioning and existence (both professionals and volunteers). It has a capacity to plan, to respond to changing conditions, and has broad support within the community in which it functions. If JDC were to leave the FSU tomorrow, Hesed would remain as a pillar of community life. Its budget and its modus operandi would be changed, but it would continue to function, and indeed flourish.
It is important to note this here, because I believe that this current emergency shows Hesed for what it is. What is striking in the reports from the field is that there is no panic. Many Hasadim report that plans were in place for just such a situation. Some wrote of doing assessments already last spring to identify the vulnerable based on the previous winter’s events. Teams were sent out to provide support that could be given in anticipation of repeated weather problems. Where they knew of problems, volunteers were organized to seal windows during the summer and fall. Emergency communication lines were set up for clients who were in hard to reach areas for just such an exigency. Elderly were provided with emergency phone numbers should they be stranded at home. Extra food was purchased and stored for delivery in the event that transportation became impossible. Local Jewish suppliers were approached to donate hats and coats, where possible. Hasadim purchased extra coal and wood, to be available in the event that regular heating broke down. Lists were made of elderly to be contacted should extreme weather hit. Staff members and volunteers were assigned responsibility for certain functions if an emergency was declared. In many instances, contact was made with municipalities and the Hesed lobbied for our clients to be included in emergency preparations.
The response has been magnificent. But the preparations for this are no less newsworthy. And, I am proud to say, this system wide response was, in most instances, done without any JDC prodding or involvement. Hesed is an institution worthy of its name- literally kindness, mercy, love. And it is here to stay as an integral part of the Jewish landscape of the FSU, and a building block of its community life.
Now for the story: You will see how this one attempt at meeting the needs of two elderly Jews in Ukraine serves as a fitting example of Hesed operations these last two weeks.
Bronislav and Tatiana have been married for some 40 years. Both are physically challenged. He walks with a severe limp since childhood, and she lost both of her legs in a car accident as a teenager. They have no family.
Shortly after they were married they moved from Kiev to Shestaki, on a farm in the Chernigov region in north central Ukraine. It is quite remote.
The couple has no source of income save a very meager pension. Tania is their homecare worker, who basically spends up to 6 hours a day in their home. They have extensive medical needs and cannot fend for themselves. She is incredibly devoted to them, and is their lifeline.
Two weeks ago the temperature reached -27 degrees Fahrenheit. Snow and ice made it virtually impossible to reach them by conventional means. (This is not the land of SUVs and 4 wheel drive). Tania was beside herself with worry.
Until she found a way to reach them.
She borrowed the horse of one neighbor and the sleigh of another, and travels to them, a trip that takes 1.5 hours each way. SHE HAS NOT MISSED A DAY since the onset of the horrible weather. The sleigh is filled with food and other supplies, plus hay and blankets to keep the horse warm while waiting for her to finish her work with the couple. On the way each day Tania stops to fill up jugs of water as the couple normally gets their water from a well, which is now frozen solid.
In an incredible postscript, the Hesed welfare coordinator wrote that Tania also does the couple’s laundry. Near the house there is a spring that does not freeze. She wears two pairs of woolen gloves, and covers them with a pair of rubber gloves, and washes the clothes in the natural spring, outdoors, in this harsh weather!
All the best,
A short plane ride between Ethiopia and Israel became the journey of a lifetime earlier this month, as more than 80 Ethiopian Jews made aliyah to Israel during The Jewish Federations of North America’s dramatic “Completing the Journey” mission.
The mission, which took place Jan. 29 to Feb. 2, enabled 60 participants from 15 communities to witness a part of the conclusion of more than three decades of Ethiopian-Jewish aliyah, which began in the 1980s and 1990s with Operations Moses and Solomon. The mission was part of an effort to complete the rescue of the remaining ancient Ethiopian Jewish community.
At the behest of the Government of Israel, Jewish Federations are spearheading the effort to raise $5.5 million on behalf of the Jewish Agency for Israel to take care of the remaining approximately 6,000 “Falas Mura” community members in Gondar and facilitate their aliyah to Israel.
“As Jews, we have a responsibility to repair the world – Tikkun Olam. Twenty years after Operation Solomon, the second of the mass airlifts of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, we are in the final stages of this modern-day exodus,” said Jeffrey Distenfeld of Washington, D.C., who chaired the mission with his wife Yvonne. “In a four-hour plane ride, we took them forward in time two thousand years.”
During their two days in Northern Ethiopia, mission participants visited schools, clinics and community centers run by Jewish Federation partner agencies, the Jewish Agency and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). The group met with Ethiopian Jews in their Gondar homes, attended synagogue and learned about the life that so many had created to sustain their Jewish identity while in Ethiopia.
John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of UJA Federation of New York, first traveled to Ethiopia to see the Falas Mura in 2003, and returned again during this “Completing the Journey” mission. “In a synagogue in Gondar, we joined hundreds adorned in tallitim and tefillin for morning prayers that concluded with ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ and ‘Od Avinu Chai’ sung with a poignancy and passion that none of us will soon forget,” he said.
On their final day in Ethiopia, the mission traveled with the Falas Mura as they prepared for aliyah, then accompanied them on a flight to Israel, and stood by as they took the final steps in their momentous journey. Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, greeted the group at the Jewish Agency absorption center in Kiryat Gat.
“It was such a moving experience to watch the sun set over the Israeli Embassy in Addis Ababa and see the Olim families walk down the hill to the transit center, carrying all of their possessions to board the buses to the airport,” said Yvonne Distenfeld. “The symbolism of the sun setting, just as they were leaving their lives in Ethiopia behind to realize their lifelong dream of going to Jerusalem, was reminiscent of the exodus from Egypt. It was truly stunning.”
Ruskay added, “To see the clinics created by JDC, Hebrew language classes and aliyah preparation led by the Jewish Agency, and head start and job training programs in Israel, is to see yet again what it means to actualize global Jewish responsibility in every part of the world. That’s what Federations and our campaigns make possible.” (Read John Ruskay’s full remarks about the Mission.)
Avital Ingber, chief development officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, also journeyed alongside the Ethiopian Jews during the mission. “On the Completing the Journey Mission, the journey is really just beginning for these Ethiopians,” she said. “Life may be difficult when they arrive in Israel, but for today, it is a dream. A true miracle!”
Learn about your local Federation’s GLOBAL IMPACT - www.associated.org/globalimpact!
Last week, a sudden wave of dangerous winter weather gripped Eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union. The death toll continued to rise as rescue crews evacuated dozens of people from snowblocked villages in Serbia and Bosnia. In towns across Bulgaria, temperatures plunged to their lowest since records started 100 years ago. It was so cold in the capital Sofia that ATM cash machines froze up, according to Trud newspaper.
JDC immediately activated its emergency winter response system to supplement the critical care it already gives to tens of thousands of Jewish elderly and needy children across the region. JDC
mobilizes quickly and efficiently under extreme conditions such as those caused by this deep freeze because an emergency protocol is inherent to its winter relief program throughout Central and Eastern
Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Especially in the hardest-hit areas of the Balkans and Ukraine, JDC from last week until today is:
• Furnishing heating fuel, blankets, warm jackets, clothes, and boots
• Providing extra food and heating supplies to those who cannot leave home
• Checking in on those who need additional medical care
Among those helped by JDC is Sophie, who lives in Sofia, Bulgaria. She was found by her JDC social worker in her kitchen—the only room in her small apartment with heating— bundled in a winter hat, a heavy sweater, and gloves.
JDC provided Sophie with two electric heaters and will cover her electricity bills for January and February—costs that would consume 60 percent of her meager monthly pension and be unaffordable. This emergency assistance supplements the daily hot meal and medicines Sophie regularly receives from JDC.
Thank you, Jewish Baltimore!! Your support enables THE ASSOCIATED and JDC to respond quickly and effectively to bring relief to Jews in dire need.
By Rebecca Weinstock
I just returned from a 10-day visit to Ashkelon, our sister city in Israel. In addition to traveling with the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership Mission, I spent several days visiting public-sector organizations and meeting with social-change activists in Israel. As I reflected on these site visits and meetings, and previous conversations with volunteers and professionals in the Jewish community, it occurred to me that the act of volunteering is actually quite complex, perhaps even more so when it includes a cross-cultural encounter.
Generally, we think of volunteering as giving without expecting something in return. The volunteer is the one who donates his or her time or skills or resources to help someone else in need. However, I think that by expanding our perception of volunteering to include a mutually beneficial relationship – with both parties giving and receiving - we might better serve the people and communities we are seeking to help. Two experiences in Ashkelon highlighted this for me. The first was during a site visit to a Moadonit, an after-school program for disadvantaged youth between the ages of six and 13. While the objective of this visit was not specifically to volunteer but rather to see the types of opportunities available for volunteers who travel to Ashkelon from Baltimore, we were welcomed with great fanfare when we arrived. One of the girls, who seemed to be around the age of 10, grabbed my hand and took me to the chalkboard. There, she began to recite and write the English alphabet. I corrected her when she drew an O instead of a C. Upon completion she smiled and took me to a shelf where she showed me all of the center’s board games and pointed out her favorites. It was difficult to drag myself away and when we said goodbye, I couldn’t help feeling sorry that we didn’t have more time to get know one another. Even so, I walked away with a smile on my face. Somehow, this brief encounter had created a positive energy that was now washing over me. Afterwards, my colleague told me that one of the counselors in the Moadonit had observed that this girl was starved for loving attention. Although we probably spent 15 minutes together, I think that both of us benefitted from that interaction. It would be strange to call this girl a “volunteer” - and in all likelihood, my listening to her recite her ABC’s once will not create a tangible change in her life circumstances. But she left me with a lasting impression, a gift that I will not soon forget. I hope she won’t either.
The second experience in Ashkelon occurred during a visit to Meitar, an organization for at-risk teenagers. Meitar is usually the last attempt to intervene before these youth end up in jail or on the street. We visited there as the sun was setting and an energetic young participant asked if she could give us the tour (she wanted to practice her English). Watching her pride and excitement as she shared a piece of her life was quite powerful. Again, I hadn’t come to Meitar to volunteer, but I think that by being there, I empowered this young woman and in return received a bit of hope and a reminder about the potential we all have to create change and to build community in the smallest of interactions.
Of course, we have the potential to do more harm than good when we enter someone else’s culture with preconceived notions or overly ambitious plans to “change” their lives. But these two interactions reaffirmed for me the importance of short-term volunteerism, when done properly. Volunteering allows for the possibility of improvement – but we must also be open to our own improvement and growth. While our intention may be to give without expectation of receiving something in return, my expanded definition of volunteering includes a give-and-take relationship – an encounter that strengthens our own identity and potential to “do good” in the world. Perhaps this is why the Hebrew to volunteer – l’hitnadev - is a reflexive verb. We don’t just give - we give of ourselves and receive in return. In doing so, we become more complete.
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