“When the war (in Ukraine) broke out, I don’t know what it was inside of me, but I just wanted to do something to help.”
Those were the words of Harry Platt, Voorhees resident and president of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, who returned from Warsaw, Poland, on April 8 after delivering medical supplies for Ukrainian refugees.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, people across the country rallied to help, including the South Jersey federation.
“When the war started, the Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA) … reached out to local federations across the country [and Canada], offered two seats to each federation, asked who wanted to go and when,” Platt said.
“They said if you get clearance, you get selected,” added Platt, who jumped at the opportunity to take one of the seats.
“Jen Weiss, CEO of our federation [and Voorhees resident], emailed me the information and said ‘Should we do this?’” he recalled. “I replied back immediately and said I’m going … As soon as I was really given the opportunity to go I [knew] was going.”
The JFNA told the South Jersey federation that its mission was to bring over-the-counter medical supplies, stressing unopened medicine for the refugees to ensure they received the purest form of supplies. After a week of donation dropoffs at the federation and Voorhees police department, more than 1,000 pounds and $70,000 worth of supplies was collected.
The federation packed 20, 50-pound suitcases and traveled to the Newark airport for the flight to Warsaw, where there are currently 60 hotels full of refugees who have been displaced in the war.
“It’s really impossible to describe these scenes …’’ noted Platt. “The most incredible thing about all of these people at the refugee centers is that they are all volunteers. Just people who wanted to come [to help].”
Among Platt’s most memorable experiences in Poland was a conversation with a refugee who was texted a picture of her house destroyed by overnight Russian bombings.
“Her husband is still living in Poland,” Platt said. “She was going through the most difficult time in her life, but took the time to describe to us what was going on. There were so many people with extraordinary will … I can’t put it into words sometimes.
“Our trip was amazing,” he added. “It was emotional, gratifying, sad – all of these things in one. Just an amazing experience … and something I know I will never be able to do again.”