Reflections on the Chief Rabbi's visit to Krakow

On Monday I had the privilege of taking Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to Krakow for the day – not your usual Bank Holiday daytrip. We went to visit the Jewish Community Centre, whom World Jewish Relief is supporting through our Ukraine Crisis Appeal.

The JCC was built by World Jewish Relief and was opened in 2008 by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. Having operated successfully as the centre of rebirth of Jewish life in Krakow since then, on 24 February it transformed itself into a Ukrainian refugee resource centre, for refugees of all faiths and none. I could not be prouder of what has been achieved.

Chief Rabbi Krakow visit

The statistics alone are impressive: 47 tons of food, medicine, hygiene supplies, toys and clothing have been provided to over 26,000 refugees. The centre is open 7 days a week and each day more than 600 Ukranians come to collect what they need; it provides legal and psychological advice to those who need it; it is sending truckloads of supplies to other refugee centres in Krakow, to the border and to reception points inside Ukraine, including hospitals; it provides accommodation in hotels, hostels and apartments in Krakow; it provides food for 120 Ukranian Roma refugees being housed in a hostel in Krakow.

JCC Krakow

I could list all its other activities but I want to tell you more about our visit.

We spent the morning at the JCC meeting some of the refugees waiting to collect food. They are treated with dignity and respect, but you see their emotional pain. It’s mainly women of all ages, some with their children, but a few older men as well. They never dreamt they would have to flee their homes, leaving their husbands behind, and rely on others for their everyday needs. It was hard to hold back the tears when listening to their stories. Teachers, doctors, people from all walks of life. We spoke to an opera singer, and when JCC Director Jonathan Ornstein heard about her career, he immediately persuaded her to sing at an event for refugees later in the week. The gratitude that they expressed for what is done for them by World Jewish Relief is overwhelming.

Chief Rabbi Krakow dinner

We met Anna, a refugee from Kyiv, who told us, crying, that when she told her parents, still in Kyiv, that she was helped by a Jewish organisation, her mother said that her grandmother had hidden two Jews for two years during the Holocaust. She had said “this is our reward for our family having done that”.

We met 86 year old Svetlana, a Holocaust survivor, who never dreamt she’d be a refugee again.

We visited a hotel where the JCC accommodates several hundred Ukranians, and met those who were willing to speak of their experiences. I did cry here. Horrific stories of why and how they left - and what they left behind. We met some of the Roma refugees, now safe in Krakow.

All wanted to go back to Ukraine.

Our work in Krakow with the JCC is part of our wider humanitarian response in Ukraine and the neighbouring regions. So far, we have reached 100,000 of the most vulnerable Ukrainians with lifesaving relief.

Meanwhile, we continue to operate in other parts of the world also in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, including Afghanistan where we have just completed the distribution of food and winter parcels to 6,000 people; Ethiopia, where we are about to begin a second food delivery to those hit not only by war but also by drought; in Haiti where we are beginning our earthquake recovery phase building new, safe houses and developing a livelihood programme for those who have lost livelihood opportunities. Over the coming months, we will also conclude our support to the Uyghur community in Turkey where we have been providing medical care, food, and integration and livelihood services.

Uyghur girlMeanwhile, our global work continues. Pictured: a Uyghur family whom we have supported in Turkey.

I want to thank Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis for his unyielding support for World Jewish Relief’s global work. Thanks also to you, our supporters, for enabling us to support those in Ukraine and having fled the war, whilst not abandoning our commitment to vulnerable communities worldwide.

To learn more and donate to our Ukraine Crisis Appeal, click here.

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