April 18, 2024
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April 18, 2024
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Operation Suitcase: Travelers to Israel Can Pack a Bag for Ukrainian Refugees

In Israel, many volunteer groups—including olim—are working together to bring hope into the lives of the newly arrived Ukrainian refugees. Keter Ukrainian Aid, an organization that was founded to ease their burdens, has opened a Jerusalem pop-up free shop to provide recently arrived refugees with hygiene products, clothing and other necessities.

The group is asking for help from those traveling to Israel for Pesach. Here’s what to do: Bring a suitcase, bag or duffle filled with essential items like clothing, underwear, pajamas or hygiene products. Visit this link for dropoff sites: bit.ly/suitcaseop.

Since March 3, the grassroots organization has established a group of 400 volunteers. They have come together to shop, transport and supply thousands of items to thousands of refugees. Because of the continued mass immigration, they are running out of supplies daily.

A group of female olim, calling themselves members of “Operation Suitcase,” are working to bolster Keter Ukrainian Aid. Sarah Lerer, who grew up in Teaneck, moved to Raanana with her family prior to the COVID lockdown, spoke with The Jewish Link about the project. “With six kids and a global pandemic, it was a very difficult adjustment. Even with financial stability and plenty of support it was a challenge to rebuild our life in a new place.”

“But Baruch Hashem, our family is thriving now in our new home. Then Putin invaded Ukraine and it really hit me harder than I thought it would. I spent a summer in Kharkiv as a teenager. I’ve walked those now bombed-out streets. And now, as the mother of two soldiers, war takes on a whole new meaning. It feels very personal. So, when I came across an Instagram story about what these women were doing to help the refugees, how could I not help?

“These people have lost their homes, their belongings—some even their friends and loved ones. They have come to Israel with just a suitcase and the trauma of war. They have to figure out how to rebuild their lives, or at least how to get by until they can return to what remains of their old ones,” Lerer said.

“So many times we look at global tragedy and suffering and say, how terrible but what can I do? Buy some underwear or pajamas or hand soap. Bring a suitcase or send some money. It’s simple, really.”

Rebbetzin Barbara Goldin, formerly of Congregation Ahavath Torah, told The Jewish Link: “I have been here in Israel for four amazing years, from Englewood, where my husband was a rabbi for 34 years. We were blessed to be part of an amazing community, and we are once again blessed to be part of an amazing Anglo community in North Talpiot.”

Rebbetzin Goldin added, “The true heroes here are the five young women who organized this incredible life-saving organization. Because that is what we are doing. We are saving lives here. Every day. Turning refugees into people again. People who can once again smile. And feel good about themselves.” The women are working together with Rabbi Yosef Friedman from Chabad of Kiryat Ha’leom and Jerusalem Gateway.

Kelly Brin, made aliyah 18 months ago with her husband, three children and two dogs. Brin told The Jewish Link, “It’s our responsibility to help those in need. If people don’t step up these people will suffer even more repercussions.

“My mother was raised in the Ukraine by Holocaust survivors. Her parents immigrated to Israel in 1976. I personally know what it is like to go through trauma and what a difference it makes to have others welcome you home and support you. My mother was always shipping money and items to Ukraine to her former friends and community.”

Melissa Sussman made aliyah in 2011 from Long Island and now lives in Efrat with her husband and children. “I had a dream when the war started where my great-grandmother was in the Ukraine and she begged me to get her out and help her. In real life, she survived the Russian pogroms and made it to America. In the dream my husband and I got her out and she looked me directly in the face and told me I had to help Ukrainians,” Sussman said.

“Being the child of three out of four Holocaust survivors I was raised on the premise of survival and how lucky we all were to be alive. If it weren’t for organizations like HIAS, my grandparents’ transition to America might not have occurred and I might have not been in the world. My ability to give to Ukrainians the same way my grandparents were given to during their time of crisis meant everything to me,” she said.

Sussman continued: “Kelly Brin started the Jerusalem Volunteer group and soon after called me to start pushing it and start a Facebook and Instagram account of our efforts. Then we came up with the idea for the pop-up shop, and the Chabad rabbi … was generous enough to offer his storefront to us.

“From there I brought Rachel Waldman on to deal with streamlining things so we could get more people involved and try to find more resources. In addition, Rachel was in touch with representatives of the Ukrainians in the government and we were able to determine their needs based on that contact. Now she is trying to connect with other organizations to understand what everyone is doing and what gaps we need to fill.

“Then I asked Pessi Wieder, who had connections to major distributors and has been pushing the group as a whole on the fundraising end. Rachel brought in Talia Kaplan to streamline documents that would support our efforts as well.”

Waldman, from Katamon, in Jerusalem, said that “people are fleeing to a foreign place during a time of crisis. As a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I can imagine the pain and trauma they are experiencing. The least we can do is take care of their basic necessities.

“People fled with very little, and they are struggling with the bureaucracy while trying to survive and put their lives back together. With providing them with these items, we are giving them one less thing to worry about. As the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, this is something that is really important to me. I want to do whatever I can.”

Wieder said, “Because I am a survivor of refugees it’s my duty to use the gift of my country for the purpose it was gifted to me … Waking up with this level of purpose and focus every morning is empowering.”

By Benjy Singer


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