Ten volunteers from North America are helping to lead a 3-week summer camp hosted by the JCC of Warsaw and local partners for 85 refugees between the ages of 7-17 who are fleeing war in Ukraine. The volunteers, who are serving alongside local program staff from Poland, are Russian-Speaking Jews who serve as educators or rabbinic leaders in the U.S. Many of them are former refugees who fled antisemitism in the Soviet Union decades ago.
The camp is operating out of the Lauder Morasha school, adjacent to the hallowed grounds of the Warsaw Ghetto, where 90,000 Jews lost their lives during the early 1940’s. The summer camp represents a place of hope for Ukrainian youth of all faiths and backgrounds who are looking towards a better future.
The camp will feature recreational activities and excursions to local sites, as well as Jewish content and programming. The participants will also be taught Polish language, in order to better integrate into their new schools in the year ahead.
Victoria Barsky, a professor of Russian language and literature at CUNY, is one of the ten volunteers who is helping to lead the programming. Victoria fled the Soviet Union as a child with her parents and rebuilt her life in New York, where she was supported by various Jewish organizations aiding refugees. “This experience is about paying it forward and helping people of all faiths and backgrounds who need our support,” Victoria said.
The educators are serving as part of a volunteer hub operated by Jewish Federations of North America, in partnership with The Jewish Agency for Israel and JDC. Since the launch of the initiative in March, Jewish Federations have recruited 80 skilled volunteers from around North America for placements in Poland and Hungary. The volunteers have assisted over 9,000 Ukrainian refugees during this time.
“Jewish Federations are able to effectively recruit volunteers and place them where they are most needed, thanks to our multi-pronged expertise which includes our relationships with agencies on the ground supporting refugees, our large network of Russian-Speaking Jews across North America that we have worked to build and our fundraising capabilities,” said Olga Markus, Program Director of Community and Jewish Life at Jewish Federations of North America. “By bridging the needs on the ground with the skills that our volunteers are able to provide, we have filled an important gap and are seeing the tremendous impact that volunteer service can have on refugee support.”
Jewish Federations have raised $72 million to date for humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees since fighting broke out on February 24th. In addition to the JCC Warsaw Camp, Jewish Federations have provided support for summer camps for Ukrainian refugees in the surrounding border countries, as well as for new olim in Israel.
“Jewish Federations continue to be at the forefront of the response to the crisis in Ukraine, from providing humanitarian aid to advocating for and facilitating refugee resettlement in the U.S. to volunteer recruitment, and we are proudly guided by our Jewish values to alleviate suffering and support those in need,” said President and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America Eric Fingerhut. “Our efforts are also yielding tremendous impact which is possible thanks to the collective support and partnership of so many generous donors in Jewish communities across North America.”