April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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In the wake of the devastation in Ukraine, the Jewish community is raising funds, collecting goods and performing mitzvot to help refugees and those who remain in the war-torn country.

Leading one of the collection efforts locally is Alona Chovnyk of Hillside, who is originally from Ukraine.

“My family is still there, my parents and grandparents,” she said. “They are in Kyiv; they are together. They are as good as they can be. Emotionally and mentally it’s very hard because it is war. Thank God they are still safe for now. They go into hiding multiple times a day when the sirens go off.”

Even though Kyiv is long believed to be a target for the Russians, Chovnyk said that currently her parents have what they need. In fact, she said, people are coming into Kyiv from small towns nearby that have been destroyed because “Kyiv is still ‘safe.’ They have food, water and a roof over their heads.”

Her parents spend their days helping others as much as they can, said Chovnyk, who speaks to them several times a day and is doing her own part to help from her New Jersey home. She has been collecting much-needed supplies to send to Ukraine. She’s already gathered boxes and boxes of goods from Bruriah High School for Girls and the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth.

Barbara Beiss Muskin of West Orange and Amanda Weisz of Hillside are helping with Chovnyk’s relief efforts, rallying their communities to help.

“The response here has been wonderful,” said Muskin. “I post on the West Orange/Livingston Chesed chat about what supplies we need, and the items arrive. Yesterday, I posted that we need thermoses and the next morning a bag full was at my door. I said we need paper towels and we got paper towels. I have at least 13 or 14 big boxes of diapers. It’s incredible.”

Muskin and her husband, Yosef, visited Ukraine four years ago, and the trip “made an impression on me,” she said. “When I heard what was happening there, I remembered being there and walking in the streets,” and wanted to help.

Chovnyk has already sent out two truckfuls of goods to Ukraine via Meest-America, a shipping service that is sending humanitarian aid free of charge. Another shipment is planned for the coming days.

Medical supplies and medicines are being collected in a joint effort by the Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center and Congregation Etz Chaim, both in Livingston, and organized by Joshua Commer, a local member of Hatzalah.

“When we donate something tangible, there is a greater sense of connection with the recipients and hopefully our compassion is ignited further,” said Rabbi James Proops of Suburban Torah, adding that in times of trouble “we must demonstrate achdut and community partnership.”

The materials will be given to Hatzalah Air, which has already sent several shipments to help refugees. On the ground, they will be distributed by JRoots, an organization that normally focuses on Holocaust and Jewish heritage education and is now helping with the relief efforts.

As JRoots’ director Tzvi Sperber said during a briefing with the Orthodox Union on Tuesday, given the “lessons we have learned from the Shoah, we couldn’t just sit and not do anything.” In addition to securing housing and kosher food for refugees, JRoots has sent a bus loaded with generators and blankets to Lviv, Ukraine and the Jews hunkering down there.

At Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck, color war was a chance to collect much-needed supplies for Ukraine. The items will be sent to the AFYA Foundation.

“Chesed is a really big part of the Ma’ayanot culture and is incorporated not just into the regular curriculum, but also incorporated in the culture of the school and any type of program we have,” said Deena Katz, director of communication and engagement. She added that students have also been reciting tehillim every day for the Jews of Ukraine.

For Ma’ayanot head of school, CB Neugroschl, the relief effort has been quite personal.

“Having spent two summers [at] camps in the Ukraine for Jewish teens, I needed our students to understand personally what the specter of a Russian invasion meant to the hundreds of thousands of people in harm’s way and to the Jewish communities who’ve built up a Jewish renaissance for nearly three decades,” she said. “The former Soviet Union was a regime of fear and discrimination, and Jews preserved their Jewish identity and customs at the risk of imprisonment or worse.

“Therefore, as we started color war this week, one of the most incredibly powerful experiences full of bonding and learning … I felt it was vital to connect our theme to the events across the world since, in fact, we are all connected,” Neugroschl continued. “This emphasis on achdus through tefillah and chesed really brought home what it means to be a people who care for and take care of those in need.”

New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, whose Brooklyn district includes Sheepshead Bay and its large community of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, praised the work being done to help Ukrainians.

“As a Ukrainian-born Jewish American, I have been floored by the incredible support from my community here in Brooklyn and beyond. Organizations like Hatzalah, Chabad, Agudah and hundreds of others have rallied in support of the Ukrainian people who are fighting for their liberty, the refugees who have fled the war zone, and the Ukrainian-American community here in New York City.

“It is truly remarkable how the Jewish people come together in a crisis and do everything they can do to help those in need,” Vernikov said. “As I see it, our most urgent issue right now is ensuring that families that wish to evacuate from Ukraine are able to cross the border and get to safety.”

For 13-year-old Maya Solomon of Short Hills, hearing about the evacuation of hundreds of Jewish orphans from Odessa, Ukraine, mobilized her to hold a bake sale, which raised more than $2,000, a sum that is being matched by a local community member. “I think it’s amazing,” she said. “I didn’t even think we would get that much.”

The daughter of Chabad-Lubavitch shluchim—Chana Devorah and Rabbi Mendy Solomon, co-directors of the Chabad at Short Hills—Maya was inspired to act after students at the Chabad Hebrew School sold mishloach manot packages to parents on February 28, raising $450 for Ukrainian refugees.

“I told my mother I wanted to do something, too,” Maya said. “I like to bake, so I was just thinking that would be a good way because a lot of people would come over and buy it.”

Maya designed a logo and rallied friends from her school and neighborhood to help. On Sunday afternoon, the group of nine girls met at the Chabad building and spent three hours baking, packing and selling pastries.

For her parents, Maya’s actions are especially heartwarming given that she was named for her great-great-grandmother Marayasha Garelick, who, as Maya’s mother explained, “suffered from war and poverty in Russia and Ukraine during Stalin’s rule and fought to keep her family and Yiddishkeit alive.”

Members of the Chabad at Short Hills also donated diapers, baby wipes, food and more, to be sent to help the refugees.

Speaking of the relief efforts, Chovnyk said, “I never thought just sending messages and asking whoever is able to donate would turn into this. If you could see how this amazing community came together and collected an enormous amount of stuff.

“There are thousands of people like me collecting and bringing things; it’s amazing to see how people are helping any way they can,” she continued. “It doesn’t just make me feel grateful, it helps the people over there because they see how much the world cares—and that gives them strength.”

By Faygie Holt

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