An Update From Poland – Just Getting Started

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Dear Friends,

I have now been in Poland for 24 hours. After a relatively easy flight, I arrived in snowy Warsaw, to assist the team from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) that is helping the refugees from Ukraine. JDF/JAFI are organizations that are helping Ukrainian refugees resettle to Israel. The people working here are picked for various reasons – some have particular skills and knowledge of Israeli bureaucracy; others are stuck here because they are of Ukrainian origin and cannot go home. All are passionate about the cause of Ukrainian people. People who are employed to help the refugees are tired and burnt out. They see and hear stories of shock, tragedy and survival. They also see hope, optimism and the spirit of the Ukrainian person that has been showcased through media in the past month.

Today, I met a family – a mom with two kids about the age of my daughter. She was placed on the train by her husband, leaving behind her father and her just-turned 18 year old son. Her husband heard and saw the atrocities committed in their city. He felt that he must protect his family – soldiers do horrible things to women during war. The mom is a doctor. One day, she came home from the office, wearing her business attire, high heeled boots and a sensible work dress. She picked up her kids from daycare. That day, in the clothes they had, the mom and the girls traveled out of their city by train. After three days of traveling, in trains, buses and cars, they finally arrived at the border, wearing nothing but the clothes on their backs.

The mom is optimistic. She has family in Israel, and puts on a brave face for her girls. The girls, playing and dancing, drawing and talking about Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol, have a wild look to them. The girls are exhausted. Laughing, smiling, they don’t understand why they are taking this unplanned trip. They don’t understand why their stuffed toys are not with them. The girls, acting in the most age appropriate way, telling silly stories and fighting with each other like only sisters can, cling to the mom….

It is heartbreaking to see this family, a family that would fit perfectly into our community center, broken up and exhausted, with barely anything left in their control and an uncertain future before them.

What do they need, you may wonder? Nothing. JDF/ JAFI has a lot of donated items. We found a pair of sneakers for mom. No trousers just yet, as she came in the evening. Tomorrow, when we sort through donations, we will find sensible clothing for her.

So, what can we, in Riverdale, do?

If you meet a person from Ukraine, be kind to them. Hear their stories. Invite them to coffee and help them get used to our peaceful way of life in Riverdale. Invite them to the Y. Swimming, arts, theater – all these things are a mark of our privilege of peace that we enjoy. Share these experiences with people you meet, because the Y is a sanctuary for us all. We create a sense of belonging for everyone. It is my hope that the family I met today will experience the feeling of safety soon. In the meantime, I will continue to listen to them and care for them while I am here. I came with the heart of Riverdale. I plan on showing everyone how big this heart is.

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