Annie Sandler and volunteers visit Poland’s Ukrainian refugees

by | Jun 2, 2022 | Trending News

In late April, Annie Sandler, along with eight other board members and staffers of the JDC (Joint Distribution Committee) and student volunteers from Active Jewish Teens (AJT), traveled to Poland to visit Ukrainian refugees.

The group had a rigorous schedule, first landing in the city of Lublin to tour the former Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva, which is currently serving as a refugee hostel. The Yeshiva basement had been refurbished as a warehouse for the vast array of gifts-in-kind received from all over the world to aid in the current crisis.

Sandler was struck by the refugees’ experiences. “Whatever I thought it was going to be or I thought I knew from reading the news, it was heartbreaking and hard to imagine what you’re looking at; to imagine the numbers, and each one of their stories was more disturbing than the next. We’re Westerners and you just don’t hear these stories and the personal devastation.”

One of the refugees they met with spoke freely and with much emotion. Her words were translated by one of the student volunteers, who shared this:

“This is only one story from Kyviv. She has more, believe me; we have a lot of stories here. She really feels proud to be useful here because it’s important to her. She asked me what I can do, I cannot sit, give me some job, to do something. She continued [to] work online with [inaudible]. They have seders, they have online meetings with employees. Now in [the] JCC we have humanitarian storage and they have…people who stay in the JCC…who are delivering this humanitarian help to our community members…and actually all the city uses our humanitarian storage there still. It’s safe, at least now. The first meeting that she had online was Project Freedom supported by the AJT and JCC…they just cried. She wishes [to]…continue to build the Jewish community there, she hopes. Everyone hopes.”

Sandler and the others in the group then proceeded to the Majdanek Holocaust Memorial. The site had been a Nazi concentration and extermination camp built during Germany’s occupation of Poland in World War II. In the afternoon, they visited the Hampton Refugee Hostel in Warsaw, and they completed the day with local JDC staff, the head of the Warsaw Jewish community, and guests from other Jewish organizations.

Day two, they took a tour of the Jewish Community Building, followed by a briefing with Amir Ben Zvi (JDC-KIEV), visited the call center, and went to the warehouse where goods for refugees were being stocked. Later, at the Warsaw JCC, they learned what the organization is doing to help the refugees integrate back into the local community as smoothly and quickly as possible. Afterward, Sandler and some others flew back to the US with the remainder of the group returning to Tel Aviv.

Sandler has traveled extensively throughout the world on behalf of the JDC to help communities in need. Her admiration for the JDC is evident. “What’s made their work so impactful is that they have been on the ground in the FSU [former Soviet Union], Ukraine, and all the surrounding countries since it was founded in 1914.”

According to JDC’s website, in the past three months, the organization has had significant accomplishments in aiding refugees from Ukraine and many other aspects of humanitarian work including fielding calls through its Hesed social welfare network and 24/7 emergency hotline system; providing refugees with vital necessities such as food, medicine, and psychosocial support; evacuating more than 12,000 Jews fleeing violence in Ukraine; delivering more than 300 tons of humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of Jews in Ukraine and those who have fled to Moldova (including essentials like food and medicine); hosting refugees and local community members at communal Passover seders across Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Moldova, and Hungary; and aiding refugees at JDC-NATAN, a 24/7 medical clinic set up in Poland’s largest humanitarian aid center—just eight miles from the Ukraine border. JDC has also delivered hundreds of wheelchairs and crutches to those with disabilities, as well as telemedicine devices that can provide medical care to thousands of sick and injured Ukrainians.

JDC is an overseas partner of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and received funding to assist Ukrainians through the Tidewater Ukraine Emergency Campaign.

Debbie Burke