By Morgan Goad, Associate Director of Development. Jewish Family Services
Longtime JFS staff member, Sydney Fleischer, has a special Thanksgiving tradition. She gathers her family and strolls to the far end of Belle Isle.
If they’re lucky, one of the coveted picnic tables is open, and they enjoy the afternoon together, watching the river roll by.
This year, Sydney shared that tradition with 21 friends, most from Ukraine! Some were brand new to Richmond, others have been here a few months, and some were resettled here by JFS in the early 1990s.
While many of the group knew each other, some had never met. Some were close: a young woman, whose parents had just arrived from Ukraine, was accompanied by her boyfriend who arrived in Richmond from the former Soviet Union when he was just five years old.
They gathered at the parking lot near the Belle Isle bridge, laden with food and drinks, and a stroller, a dog, and young kids in tow. As everyone arrived at the end of the trail loop, they found one of the picnic tables empty and ready for them! Sydney joked, “We don’t always manage to get one.”
She’d told all of her guests to bring a treat to share, and as everyone unpacked, it became clear that everyone’s favorite was blintzes. Sydney pointed to each in the picture with a smile. “There were chocolate blintzes, cheese blintzes, fruit blintzes – we were blintzed out!”
As everyone gathered around the picnic table, many for their first Thanksgiving celebration, Sydney led the group in a few blessings, followed by a short lesson on the history of Thanksgiving and its origins in Sukkot. A few of the new arrivals shared how thankful they were for freedom from the war in their homeland.
Thirty years ago, Sydney hosted the very same gathering with the new Americans JFS welcomed from the former Soviet Union in the late 80s and early 90s – many from what is now Ukraine. The circumstances may be different, but JFS’ response has been the same: we have done everything in our power to welcome our newest neighbors with open arms.
Right now, we are arranging for English lessons, finding and furnishing apartments, and connecting new arrivals to the local Ukrainian and Russian community. We are also helping community members through the process of becoming “sponsors” in order to open the door to more individuals and families fleeing danger and hoping to build a home here in Richmond. Our work was even recognized by Senator Tim Kaine in his recent visit to the Federation!
JFS is honored to announce that the Russian and Ukrainian Resettlement Fund has been established at the JFS Supporting Foundation by Tom and Wendy Rosenthal and the Rosenthal Foundation. This fund adds to the community’s support of JFS’ efforts to help families arriving from Ukraine and Russia, as well as our work recruiting Richmond sponsors to welcome even more arrivals.
If you’d like to get involved with JFS’ resettlement program – our seventh in 174 years – please contact Morgan Goad at email@example.com or (804) 349-0758.