May 26, 2024
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May 26, 2024
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Meeting Ukrainian Refugees On My Visit to Poland

We all have backpacks. For school. For trips. For everyday necessities.

These refugees have nothing.

They simply got up and left all that they have known, taking whatever they can.

And that backpack, that backpack that we use constantly and casually, is not a given for them.

These children don’t have anything of their own. But this backpack, this backpack is theirs. It’s not their mom’s. It’s not their dad’s. It’s not their siblings’.

It is theirs.

It doesn’t remind them of the trauma they’ve just encountered, the three days they just spent waiting at the train station.

It’s new. It symbolizes the new life they’re starting.

These children feel powerless. Ownership of something that is their own gives them something they can have control over, however small. That is of the utmost importance in situations like this.

A small gesture, one as small as handing a child a backpack, has a big impact. It shows them that there are people out there who care.

Who knows what it feels like to be forced to leave their lives behind. After all, that’s why we’re here: to remember what happened to our relatives and ancestors here in Poland, who were forced to leave not only their homes, but life on earth.

These refugees are starting over. 6 million of our ancestors didn’t get that chance. Giving that backpack, however small it may be, symbolizes a second chance at life. That we care about the continuity of life. This rang especially true as I stood in Zamosc, the hometown of my great-grandmother, a Holocaust survivor.

Giving refugee children backpacks is our way of handing them the gateway to starting fresh, in honor of so many of our people who weren’t afforded that opportunity.

Our message stands loud and clear: we care.

The slightest smile of a child, whose face just moments before was filled with trauma, is something I will never forget.

Jessica Brenner, a student at Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum seminary for women, reflects on her recent school heritage trip to Poland, which included distributing backpacks filled with toys and treats to children refugees from Ukraine. Brenner, who graduated from Ma’ayanot High School, lives on the Upper West Side.

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