Jewish Philanthropy Aid to Ukrainian Jews Continues as Crisis Intensifies

The following is reprinted courtesy of Chabad.ORG/News from an article by Yaakov Ort published July 4, 2023. 

As the war in Ukraine enters its 16th month, the humanitarian crisis continues to grow daily. Ever mindful that the conflict has drained Ukraine’s financial and human resources, and is causing crushing poverty to skyrocket from 2 percent to 25 percent of the population, the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Relief Network Ukraine (JRNU)—the unified effort for funding and providing humanitarian work in Ukraine and bring essential, life-saving aid to Jewish communities throughout the country—is continuing to expand its partnerships with the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and other Jewish philanthropies.

“The historians of our generation will write about this period as the first time ever that a war broke out in Europe and being a Jew did not mean you were a victim, but that there was an infrastructure in place to rescue and care for you,” Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, told

When JFNA looked for ways to distribute that aid effectively and efficiently, and directly reach the communities and individuals in need above and beyond its longstanding partnerships with the Jewish Agency for Israel, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and World ORT, it was only natural to partner with Chabad-Lubavitch in Ukraine.

Reaffirming that commitment last week (as pictured above), a delegation of leaders from JFNA, led by Fingerhut and JFNA’s National Campaign Chair J. David Heller, met with representatives of Chabad in Ashkelon, Israel, where they visited the school and facilities that house the children from an orphanage in Zhitomir, Ukraine who were airlifted to Israel last year. They heard detailed briefings from Rabbi Shlomo Peles, CEO of JRNU, and Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, senior advisor to JRNU who has helped to establish and steer the funding and aid efforts, on the broad scope of Chabad’s work in Ukraine. Fingerhut reaffirmed the commitment of JNFA to the ongoing partnership with Chabad in providing assistance to Ukrainian Jews. David Heller praised Chabad’s cooperation with the JDC and the Jewish Agency in projects in Ukraine.

An Infrastructure of Care

Since 1990, when the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—sent the first permanent emissaries to what was then still the Soviet Union, Chabad’s network of emissaries has built an expansive network of synagogues, Jewish educational programs and social-service organizations across 32 major cities in Ukraine, serving hundreds more small towns and villages. Chabad rabbis and their wives are often the only Jewish communal address in an entire region and are responsible for creating modern Ukraine’s thriving Jewish infrastructure. When the war began in February 2022, this network—created to foster Jewish life in Ukraine—was forced to switch to a war-time footing.

At the same time, JFNA’s call to aid Ukraine was answered by philanthropists throughout the Federation system. “Our infrastructure took decades and hundreds of millions of dollars to build,” Fingerhut explained. “Our Federation system should feel a tremendous sense of pride knowing that our investment is saving the lives of so many Jews and non-Jews on European soil. I am inspired by the many individuals across our system who have responded so generously to this crisis and who continue to make these vital relief efforts possible.”

Rina Goldberg, JFNA’s associate vice president for Israel and Overseas, has helped to oversee the distribution of $5 million in aid to Chabad in Ukraine.

Citing the work over the past 15 months with Peles and Eliezrie of the JRNU, Goldberg said the effectiveness of the partnership is “clearly from how it’s been organized from the top,” and that the JFNA has “trust and faith in Chabad and its work on the ground.”

Chabad’s Jewish infrastructure in Ukraine, she says, makes it an effective conduit of aid during the war. “Chabad has shown extraordinary transparency, has acted with clarity and understanding of whose needs to be met, and has reported the results in a timely way,” Goldberg observed.

Pictured here: Children who have remained in Zhitomir at play in a reinforced bomb shelter at Chabad of Zhitomir's Ohr Avner Jewish Day School.

The safety and education of Jewish children in Ukraine remains a priority for philanthropic funders and providers like JRNU and JFNA - Photo: Chabad of Zhitomir

Presence in Ukraine since the 1700s
The Chabad presence in Ukraine is as old as the movement itself. Ukraine is where the Chassidic movement was born in the 1700s and home for centuries to many famed Chassidic centers, including Chabad ones. During the Communist era, many of Chabad’s clandestine efforts to foster Jewish life under brutal Soviet oppression took place in Ukraine, where some 50 percent of the USSR’s Jewish population lived. When the Rebbe sent his first permanent emissaries to Ukraine in 1990, they were able to build on the work of earlier generations of Chabad activists, who heroically kept the embers of Jewish faith burning, to create what could be called a new golden era of Jewish life in Ukraine.

This Jewish infrastructure grew by leaps and bounds over a period of 30 years until war came and everything changed. But it did not disappear. Today, from shell-pocked Kharkov on the northeastern border to decimated Mariupol on the Azov Sea; from Dnipro in the east through the capital of Kiev, down to Odessa; and out west to Zhitomir and Uzhgorod, Chabad of Ukraine’s Jewish communal infrastructure has served as a lifeline for tens of thousands of Ukrainians suffering through a heretofore unimaginable catastrophe.

With the help of the JRNU, 35,000 people were evacuated from the country during the first months of war, with another 30,000 internally displaced being cared for. As the war is well into its second year, about 50,000 people in Ukraine are being provided war-time assistance each month by JRNU.

A Harbinger of Growing Cooperation

Chabad’s partnership with JFNA has been part of a wider network of philanthropic and humanitarian partnerships, including with the International Federation of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) and the Orthodox Union (OU), as well as thousands of individual donors from around the world, who have contributed directly to the JRNU.

“The partnership in Ukraine is a new dimension in many long-standing cooperative efforts between the Jewish Federations and Chabad on a local and national level,” said Eliezrie, who hopes this expanded partnership can be a harbinger of more effective ways to serve Jewish communities not just in Ukraine but around the world.

He noted that a major donor to the Chabad efforts in Ukraine from the outset of the war has been the UJA-Federation of New York, which has had a longstanding, productive relationship with Chabad. In the winter of 5741 (1981), the Rebbe offered his support to a Federation campaign in a letter to Rabbi Isaac Trainin, then-director of religious affairs. The Rebbe noted that he once consented to a press release “in which I endorsed the U.J.A.-Federation Campaign some years ago, and suggest that a similar endorsement at this time would be most helpful.”

The Rebbe explained that although the Sixth Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory—had established a policy of making “no public endorsements of any cause, however worthy,” other than those connected to Lubavitch, the Rebbe would do so in this case.

“In view of the growing needs of our Jewish brethren, both here and overseas, particularly in the area of Jewish education I earnestly trust that everyone who is approached for a contribution to this campaign will respond warmly and generously to counteract the growing forces of assimilation, cults, intermarriage, etc. that are seriously eroding the very foundations of American and world Jewry,” the Rebbe wrote.

“We have worked together for years to strengthen Jewish life around North America,” said Eliezrie. “Local Federations like the UJA-Federation of New York have supported Chabad educational programs, teen activities, campus centers and other projects. In emergencies like the Florida hurricanes, the Florida federations’ support of Chabad’s local humanitarian aid was essential.”

Goldberg, of the JFNA, lauded the virtue of the partnerships that made this possible. “Recognizing that we are part of one big Jewish community enables us to serve the Jewish person who lives around the corner as well as the one who lives around the world, in their happiest and most difficult moments,” she said.

“The shluchim [emissary couples] around Ukraine have served their communities so faithfully and heroically throughout the war,” concluded Goldberg. “We are so grateful to have Chabad in this partnership.”


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