Montreal Jewish community appeals for help to assist Jews in Ukraine

War-ravaged nation’s Jewish community is the fifth largest in the world

Federation CJA, the Montreal Jewish community’s central fundraising agency, has launched an urgent appeal in conjunction with Jewish Federations of North America and its global network to amass $20 million in relief funding for Jews in war-torn Ukraine.

“We are an integral part of a worldwide campaign to provide humanitarian assistance to alleviate suffering and safeguard Ukraine’s Jewish community, as well as Jews in neighbouring countries,” said Yair Szlak, CEO of Federation CJA.

“We are proud that over one thousand community members have already stepped up and donated close to five hundred thousand dollars in support of these efforts. But, so much more is needed on an urgent basis.”

Support urgently needed

“Thousands of Jews living in Ukraine are trapped in conflict zones,” says the federation. “Thousands more are on the move – including many to be relocated to Israel and elsewhere.” They say an unknown number will seek shelter in Montreal, Laval and across Canada. The organization says it is committed to supporting its partner agencies on the ground, in Israel and at home, to ensure the well-being of these Jewish refugees.

An image captured by a Ukrainian surveillance drone during fighting against invading Russian forces.

“The immediate support from the public is critical in helping to secure families who are trapped in Ukraine and those who are on the run,” Szlak added. “The needs are urgent. By donating to the Ukraine Emergency Relief Fund, you will be helping during this incredibly difficult time. We hope for an immediate cessation to this horrific tragedy and pray for peace for the Ukrainian people.”

On the ground in Ukraine

As the crisis in Ukraine escalates, the federation notes that thousands have come under fire in areas across the country, while hundreds of thousands more have fled the fighting. “These people, and thousands more, require our immediate assistance,” the federation said.

The federation says the emergency funding it will be channeling will focus on the following:

· Helping people make Aliyah (immigration) to Israel;

· Securing the local community and its institutions;

· Maintaining critical welfare services;

· Assisting internally displaced people in multiple locations;

· Securing temporary housing for people in transit;

· Purchasing satellite phones to maintain communications across the region;

· Securing five Jewish schools and training staff to manage crisis needs.

Here at home

According to federation CJA, work is well underway to support those affected in Montreal as well, since others will soon arrive here. The federation says its social service partners, Agence Ometz and Cummings Centre, currently are:

· Keeping current clients with family in Ukraine informed, connected and supported by providing psychosocial support and trauma-sensitive services in Ukrainian and Russian languages;

· Coordinating with local and national partner agencies across Canada to ensure preparedness;

· Gathering resources for newcomers: families who are ready to provide emergency shelter, employment offers, basic needs, and psychosocial support;

· And organizing post-arrival settlement and integration service responses.

The federation says its advocacy arm, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), is working with various government agencies to ensure that Jewish refugees who wish to come to Montreal can do so.

200,000 Jews in Ukraine

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

It is estimated that during World War II and the German Nazi occupation of Ukraine, more than 1 million Jews were shot and killed by German paramilitary death squads and by local Ukrainian supporters in various regions of Ukraine.

According to a number of information and data sources available on the web, including the World Jewish Congress and the European Jewish Congress, the Jewish community in Ukraine is the third-largest Jewish community in Europe and the fifth-largest globally.

Writing in The New Yorker on Feb. 28, Montreal-born journalist Bernard Avishai noted that Ukraine is home to about 200,000 people who qualify, by Israel’s definition of who is a Jew, for Israeli citizenship, and could therefore emigrate to Israel under the law of return.

Ukraine’s president is Jewish

While Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is himself a Jew and has pledged to keep fighting the Russians, Avishai maintains that Israeli leaders believe a significant number of other Ukrainian Jews would rather emigrate to Israel, rather than resist a continued Russian assault or occupation.

“We’ll be happy to receive any Jew that wants to immigrate from Ukraine,” he quotes an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson as having told Newsweek. Yet, presumably, Avishai continues, a mass evacuation wouldn’t be possible if Israel incited Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s anger, or provoked an outburst of Russian anti-Semitism. By Avishai’s account, there are some 175,000 Jews still living in Russia.