The impact of Russia’s Ukraine invasion last month has been felt widely in the South Jersey community.
For members of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, the war hit close to home. The nonprofit has conducted trips to Ukraine and Eastern Europe for decades to distribute food and medicine to needy elderly people and has helped resettle individuals fleeing the Soviet Union.
“Many of us are from the Odessa, Kyiv kind of region,” said Jen Weiss, CEO of the organization. “This war has really been felt by our community.”
The Jewish Federation has teamed with organizations like The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC); the World Organization for Educational Resources and Technological Training (ORT); and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) to help Ukrainian residents and fleeing refugees get food, medicine, warm clothes and temporary housing, among other needs.
“The (Jewish) Federations in the U.S. are all pulling their resources to raise $20 million collectively, and the money is going to maintain critical welfare services for tens of thousands of people who are vulnerable across Ukraine,” Weiss explained.
As of March 8, the Jewish Federation had raised $80,000, with a $50,000 match from the Raymond and Gertrude Saltzman Foundation.
“I think educating ourselves, number one, is a great way to help in any humanitarian crisis,” Weiss said.
Students at Haddonfield Memorial High School share that sentiment. Upon hearing of the invasion, members of the LEO Service Club, Ben and Olivia Hansen; along with the president, Madeleine Cush; and their peer, Mia Gagliardi of the Peer Bias Leader Club, met with the dean of students and other school staffers to see how they could help. Within days, a group of about 15 students, three history teachers and two administrators put together a school-wide rally on March 8.
Before that, LEO Club students spent their lunch periods creating ribbons in support of Ukraine. Along with supporting organizations that are helping Ukraine, students wanted an educational component at the school rally to combat misinformation, and they worked with history teachers to put together a presentation.
“Even before the rally, I know that a lot of people were questioning what exactly was going on and what led up to (Russia’s invasion),” Olivia Hansen said. “So I definitely think that getting that educational background (and) also bringing people together really relieved a lot of that anxiety and questioning what’s going on.”
The morning of the rally, the club students distributed ribbons and collected donations for Save the Children, a nonprofit that provides food, water, hygiene kits and cash assistance to families trying to flee dangerous situations, according to Margaret Gammie, a history teacher at Haddonfield Memorial and advisor for the LEO Club. They raised more than $1,000.
During the school presentation, Cush and Gagliardi addressed the historic events leading up to Russia’s invasion, including the relationship between Russia and Ukraine when the latter was part of the Soviet Union. The powerpoint also provided an overview of what is taking place now and the response to the invasion from countries around the world, namely sanctions on Russia.
“I think seeing the images on the news has been concerning for students, and they need a space to process it and talk about it, and they also want to feel like they want to do something,” Gammie noted.
“As a school community, we’ve been so proud of them. They’re not just looking at the news and despairing, which you definitely could do, but they looked at that and said, ‘What can we do to help?’”
To donate to the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, visit jfcs.org. To donate to Save the Children, visit savethechildren.org