Samantha Dubrinsky, the Birmingham Jewish Federation’s Director of Community Impact, is in Israel for a few days. She is part of a group of Jewish Federation professionals and volunteer leaders who spent several days in Ukraine and then traveled to Israel. Trip members are learning about the needs in Israel and what programs funded by Jewish Federations are doing to help. In addition, the group is learning strategies for fundraising. Samantha is pictured here with trip participants and Shiran, the Ethiopian immigrant mentioned in the below story. (Samantha is at top right.)
By Samantha Dubrinsky
BJF Director of Community Impact
On Wednesday, I flew from Kiev, Ukraine to Tel Aviv, Israel. Flying to Israel is always exciting — you feel like you’re going home. But, on this flight, I kept thinking about the people who have flown that very same flight from Kiev to Tel Aviv to arrive in their new home.
It’s natural to wonder about the Jewish community in Ukraine. Conflict is raging on the eastern side of the country and Jews — in the conflict zone and those who have been displaced — need basic necessities such as food, electricity and running water. As we learned in Kiev, the Ukrainian economy has suffered tremendously, so much so that the value of the currency has dropped by 70%. Items such as diapers that were once affordable are now priced astronomically high.
Jews are leaving in significant numbers. Since 2014, over 19,000 Ukrainian Jews have made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) thanks to the Federation-funded Israel-based Jewish Agency. These Jews have left their homes and all they know for a new life in a new country that welcomes them with open arms.
ERUPTING WITH APPLAUSE
The flight from Kiev to Tel Aviv is just over three hours, but I’m sure if you’re waiting to arrive in your new home, it feels like an eternity. When we landed in Tel Aviv, the plane erupted with applause and I wondered if anyone might be arriving to make their new home in Israel.
This experience stuck with me despite my exhaustion from this week’s intense itinerary. How lucky we are to have a Jewish state that embraces Jews everywhere and a country that can be a safe haven for so many of our brothers and sisters. And then shortly after arriving in Israel, I met some recent immigrants and descendants of immigrants who reflected the power of being in Israel and the impact of the Jewish Federation movement.
We met with Ukrainians who made aliyah within the past several months and over the past few years. They are thriving thanks to help from the Jewish Agency. As a result of funding the Birmingham Jewish Federation and other Jewish Federations provide, the Jewish Agency can offer new immigrants Hebrew language training, job assistance and other important services.
These particular Ukrainian-Israelis were especially grateful for the opportunity to be in Israel. One came from Donesk– in the heart of the conflict zone — and the other had been displaced because of the conflict. When asked what was the hardest part about living in Israel, one responded, “Nothing — because I finally feel at home and life has never felt easier.”
ETHIOPIAN CHALLENGES, MIRACLES
Though I’ve been to Israel several times, I haven’t had a real conversation with an Ethiopian-Israeli, but the story of their arrival to Israel always has fascinated me and made me proud to be part of the Federation movement. (Federations across the US have assisted with the Ethiopian aliyah.) But, we know — and heard on this trip — that while their arrival in Israel was a miracle, the absorption process has been challenging.
Ethiopians are struggling to speak Hebrew, find jobs and find a real home in their new home. The Ethiopian National Project (ENP), which is a program of the Israeli government, the Ethiopian community and the Federation movement, has been able to make a real difference in the lives of Ethiopians who struggle. I met one of the products of ENP’s scholastic program.
Her name is Shiran and she’s 18. Thanks to ENP’s programs, she can speak English well. She told me that her grades, which once suffered tremendously, improved dramatically as soon as she became part of the School Performance And Community Empowerment (SPACE) program. This program provides supplementary educational opportunities for the Ethiopian community. And it works.
In fact, it works so well that the Israeli government matches funds that ENP receives for the SPACE program. The program is making a tremendous difference. It has 36 graduates in medical school. The Birmingham Jewish Federation’s Israel – World Jewry Bureau and The Birmingham Jewish Foundation have helped by funding ENP and the SPACE program.
From Ukraine to Israel with a touch of Ethiopia thrown in. Challenges, triumphs and miracles. I’ve never been more convinced that Federation work is truly holy. And I’ve never been more grateful to be part of it.
Click here to learn more about the Jewish Agency for Israel