Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism, is calling for urgent action in response to “our forgotten refugee crisis”. Since the war in Eastern Ukraine began in 2014, 1.8m people have been forced from their homes by the fighting, including thousands of Jews from Donetsk and Lugansk.
Rabbi Janner-Klausner has just returned from a visit to Kiev where she heard eye-witness testimony from Jews who fled to the capital after their homes were bombed out. The Jewish refugees – known as internally displaced persons (IDPs) under international law – told Rabbi Janner-Klausner how they left with only the clothes they were wearing and a few possessions. Most have lost everything including their valuables and houses. Family and friends have been killed due to being political targets.
International development agency World Jewish Relief has launched a programme to support the refugees to settle in their host city. The charity, founded in 1933 to rescue Jews from Nazi Germany, now provides counselling and training, helping IDPs to secure new jobs in Kiev so they can continue to feed their families. The graduates of the programme Rabbi Janner-Klausner met shared their personal stories and thanked her and World Jewish Relief for their support, without which they said they would not have been able to cope. Many explained how they would be on the streets of the city without the life-saving assistance.
Rabbi Janner-Klausner was accompanied on the visit by Dan Rosenfield, World Jewish Relief’s Chair, who showed her the full range of World Jewish Relief’s programmes including the support given for vulnerable older Jews living in Kiev. The UK-based charity works with local partners to renovate dilapidated homes and to protect older people during the upcoming bitter winter where temperatures may plummet to as low as -30. The group participated in a session supporting Jews with dementia. They also saw how the home care workers provided by World Jewish Relief enable older Jews, who would otherwise be unable to look after themselves, to live a life of dignity.
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said: “Thousands of Jews are internally displaced people, refugees, in Ukraine. Our community has led the way in responding to the refugee crisis in Europe, and now is the time to redouble our efforts for those fleeing conflict within Ukraine, including Jews. This is our forgotten refugee crisis. World Jewish Relief deserves our support as it leads these efforts. As Rabbi Hillel said: “Im ein ani li”; “If I am not for myself who will be for me?”
Dan Rosenfield, World Jewish Relief’s Chair, said: “We thought the idea of a Jewish refugee crisis was a thing of the past. Meeting Jews in Kiev who have lost everything – their homes, their businesses and in some cases their family members – should serve as a wake-up call for our community. I am so proud of what our teams are achieving across Ukraine and in Kiev in particular – putting a roof over people’s heads, finding them jobs and helping them through their psychological trauma. These interventions cost relatively little but are transformational. Quietly, without fanfare, World Jewish Relief is improving the lives of thousands of Jews across Eastern Europe. They need our support. We are hugely grateful to Rabbi Laura for taking time out of her busy schedule to join us in Ukraine and for providing leadership on this vital issue.”