Is Everything an Emergency?

October 2014

Growing up I remember an electronics store that had a going out of business sale. We went and bought something feeling great that we got a nice deal. Then months went by and they were still having the going out of business sale.  Then it seemed like every six months they had a going out of business sale. Or there was the furniture store that every week advertised the best sale in the store’s history. A few weeks later they declared that prices have never been this low. Fast forward a few weeks, months and years and every sale is proclaimed to be the greatest and lowest with prices never again as low.

Not everything can be an emergency. In our Jewish community business we are very careful when we declare something an emergency or a crisis. We don’t want to be viewed as a less than honest broker having an emergency-of-the-month.

But let’s be honest. The times we are living in are unprecedented, complex, concerning. The war with Hamas. The continuing and real threat from Iran. The new concerns of the hyper-radical and hyper-brutal ISIS. The civil war in Syria. The open and brazen support of terrorists by U.S. allies Qatar and Turkey. The rapid unveiling of anti-Semitism worldwide, but particularly in Europe.  

With all that’s going on we may have forgotten another hotspot that has morphed into a Jewish emergency: Ukraine. Over the past few weeks we have received several alarming briefings on the situation in Ukraine, including an emergency call for funds. In an area of a once-thriving Jewish community, tens of thousands of Jews are imperiled by the ongoing fighting between Ukrainians and pro-Russian rebels.  

Over 1 million people have fled the area, with estimates as high as 300,000 internally displaced persons. Eastern Ukraine once held 27,000 Jews. Today in Donetsk and Lugansk, which have both declared themselves as independent republics, there are about 2,000 Jewish welfare clients in constant need of life-sustaining aid. Another 1,500, mostly elderly and infirmed, reside in the periphery. JDC workers discuss random shootings, numerous checkpoints and rampant looting as the economy is stalled by the fighting – even during ceasefires.

On homecare visits inside the bombed-out, besieged cities, JDC workers often ride their bikes to a client’s apartment to check in and deliver food and medicine. Once there they must draw fresh water from the nearest source – usually a fire pump or from a patrolling fire engine.  They schlep the water to the client and then repeat the routine with 4-5 clients each day. For clients forced to evacuate, they are without income as their pension checks do not follow them during their displacement.  

Logistically, service delivery is a nightmare as clients are spread across the region, homes are difficult to access and roads are blocked by destroyed tank trucks and personnel carriers. In certain areas public transportation is inoperable, grocery stores are open for a few hours a day and pharmacies do not open as their shelves are empty.  

Until the conflict began, Ukraine served as an important staging area for JDC’s relief efforts throughout Eastern Europe. Warehouses were filled with goods that were strategically shipped to over 150 relief centers. Today those warehouses are nearly empty. Previous supplies came from the west. The controlling rebels won’t allow those shipments and instead require relief agencies as well as commercial stores to resupply with goods from the east (e.g. Russia). But the supply chain is not in place, or is disrupted by violence and pirating. And, almost overnight, the economy was forced to change currency from Ukrainian or western currency to Russian rubles.

Our network has created a private distribution system to move goods from Russia to areas of greater need.

All of this costs money and represents an unbudgeted crisis. In the last few days our Federation received an emergency call imploring us to immediately send cash to support the crisis. We have immediately responded and sent our “fair share” of the cash, joining over 130 other Jewish federations, UIA-Canada and Keren Hayesod.

These emergency needs will be met by our 2015 Campaign for Jewish Needs. Increased pledges made now to the 2015 Campaign will enable us to cover the cash we just transmitted. The pledge now is sufficient; payment is not due until December 2015. We are in the midst of a 60-day challenge to raise the bulk of funds for our 2015 Campaign. The challenge is made all the more urgent due to the needs in Ukraine.

This is not another sale of the year. This is not the emergency-of-the-month. This is real.



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