The Richmond and Utah contingents on the trip won the prize for earliest flights out of Warsaw. The reward was a 3:30am wake-up call. Oy. We flew to Amsterdam where I said goodbye to Ellen Renee and Sara. From here, I head to Florida to see my parents, and they head home to Richmond.
The group made it back to the hotel last night around 8pm or so, and then ate dinner together. Everyone had an opportunity to share their thoughts. It was very moving and also validating, as every person in our group had similar thoughts about what it means to be a Jew, the importance of helping those in need, and flat-out admiration for the heros doing the real work on the ground.
It obviously takes talented and dedicated people to accomplish the types of things that JFNA, JDC, JAFI, or any organization has and will accomplish. But it also takes money, and we too often dance around that topic or avoid it. These organizations shifted on a dime to establish aid centers, take over entire hotels, set up and stock the first tents that refugees see when they enter Poland, organize donation drives, and all the other stuff. They can do that because they have the infrastructure to support it.
For example, JFNA has an entire division dedicated to emergency responses around the world. JDC can move a NYC employee to Poland for a month. Building the infrastructure comes from years of stability and fundraising and making smart decisions. Without the infrastructure, there’s little ability to move quickly, leaving Jews and non-Jews at risk when bad things happen, like when tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews need immediate help or when Russian Jews need to be re-settled or when Russia invades a neighboring country and people flee their homes.
Moving quickly also means raising emergency monies quickly. It takes an established fundraising machine and network to do that. In the last 6 weeks alone, JFNA has raised almost $40 million for the Ukraine relief efforts. This is new money in the door that has been allocated to the field with no admin or other costs taken out. I have the full list of the 15 or so organizations that have received the funds. They include familiar names such as JDC and JAFI and Chabad, but also organizations like World Ort that has 5 Jewish schools in Ukraine and the Israel Trauma Coalition that provides trauma care and counseling to those in need.
Closer to home, our Richmond Federation has raised more than $250,000 in the last 6 weeks, which has been deployed to help the JDC, JAFI, Chabad, and others.
The entire relief effort demonstrates the importance of funding these organizations annually and when desperately needed. These organizations help and protect and watch out for us. They are at the ready. Another way of saying it, which I think Ellen Renee said at dinner last night, is that JFNA can’t wait for the fire to build the fire station, hire firefighters, and buy fire trucks. You can’t put the fire out if you don’t already have all that.
But all of that is logistics and organization and commitment. There’s more to it than that. JFNA and its partners are the voice for Jews around the world. Some in every community at times question the level of funds that go to Israel and around the world when there are local agencies that could really use that money. We have an obligation to fund efforts everywhere, not just our own backyard, and especially where Jews have no voice like Ukraine and other places. We have to be their voice.
I once heard Mark Sisisky say that if you can’t see it, you can’t feel it. What I saw in Poland the last two days was as close as I’ve ever been to witnessing personal widespread devastation. And while I’ve never been involved in crisis response on this level, I can’t imagine it could be addressed in a more thoughtful, organized, and passionate manner. I saw it, and I felt it.
I’ve enjoyed sharing my trip and my thoughts on this blog. It helps me process what I’m seeing. I hope you’ve enjoyed following our trip and I highly recommend you sign up for a Federation trip in the future. And if you do, or if you have any questions, please let me know because it will give me a chance to talk about this trip more and all the good things I witnessed in response to real crises.
Thus endeth this blog. Special thanks to Ellen Renee, our fearless and wonderful president, for putting up with me. It is undoubtedly her biggest accomplishment during her presidency. Thank you also to Sara Rosenbaum, who just might be the brains behind our well-oiled Richmond Jewish Federation (sorry Daniel). Sara, let me know when you need coffee and I’ll pick it up for you. And finally, Meghan Kelly at the home office was instrumental in helping me with this blog. Huge props and thanks to her for being so responsive to my texts and emails and for being so patient with me and my IT shortcomings.
Let’s all hope and pray that this war ends soon. But whenever it ends, things will never be the same for those affected. They will need short term and long term help, and I am confident that JFNA and our partners will be there to provide it.