JDC to light darkness in Ukraine with increased humanitarian relief, Chanukah celebrations

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Special to the JT

As Ukraine’s winter worsens amid ongoing devastation to energy infrastructure and housing, Ukrainian Jews are receiving increased seasonal support and opportunities to celebrate Chanukah, the Jewish “Festival of Lights,” through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Across Ukraine, JDC has expanded its annual winter survival program and is providing scores of online and in-person Chanukah events for tens of thousands of vulnerable Jews, including the elderly and internally displaced people (IDPs).

JDC volunteers light Chanukah candles with seniors prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy of JDC)

“It’s tragically fitting that the light and hope we kindle to celebrate Chanukah is needed now more than ever in the homes of Ukraine’s Jews. As they suffer without power, heat and water for long periods of time in freezing temperatures, we continue to deliver the life-saving aid and holiday celebrations that ensure warmth, support, and community solidarity even in the darkest of times,” said JDC CEO Ariel Zwang.

Since the start of the conflict, JDC staff and volunteers have provided essential supplies and care to 43,000 Jews in Ukraine and have already aided 22,000-plus people with winter survival needs, more than double the amount served in previous years. Across the region, JDC Hesed social-service centers and JDC-supported community service centers are being converted into warming centers for those who do not have access to heat or electricity. Sleeping bags that can withstand sub-zero temperatures and dehydrated and canned goods are among the essential supplies being provided to those in need.

In addition, JDC’s JOINTECH program, a virtual tool launched during the pandemic that leverages technology to connect elderly and isolated Jews in the region with remote care and community programming, published a series of videos taught by a professional survivalist that demonstrate different techniques to help endure the winter months at home amid widespread blackouts and destroyed infrastructure.

Across Ukraine, celebrations will take place both online and in-person, where possible, and will be led by JDC staff and volunteers. In the Kharkiv, Dnipro and Odessa regions, programs will include concerts, drama and dance performances, online holiday quizzes, cooking classes and community menorah-lightings. In Sumy, community members will be treated to a special concert at the local philharmonic hall, followed by a public candle-lighting in the city center.

Holocaust survivors in Odessa will hold a Chanukah party in coordination with the Migdal JCC, with the community marking the conclusion of holiday with a Chanukah celebration and concert for local elderly, children, and their parents. In addition, on the fourth night of Chanukah, Active Jewish Teens (AJT) club participants from 14 cities will gather for an online auction whose proceeds will benefit local chapters in the form of goods like warm sweatshirts and volunteer service where participants donate hours delivering aid to the needy or running community programs in cities across Ukraine. AJT is JDC’s youth network in the FSU, powered in partnership with the Genesis Philanthropy Group and part of the BBYO global movement.

And for the second year in a row, JDC will mark the holiday with “A Great Miracle Happened Here,” an eight-night global Chanukah experience. This year’s event will take audiences to Ukraine, Australia, Moldova, Romania, Israel, Bosnia Herzegovina, Argentina and India for Chanukah celebration, culture and candle-lighting. Night one will have a special focus on the Ukraine crisis and will include appearances by Food Network host Duff Goldman, Broadway star Julie Benko, and Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

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