What does a Ukrainian Jew do in the current uncertainty? What do you do when your country is in economic and political turmoil? These are seemingly simple questions to which there are no simple answers. Jews in Ukraine and Crimea stand on both sides of a political issue, while at the same time worrying about the possibility of rising anti-Semitism from elements looking to scapegoat and stir a pot. Some are ardent Ukrainian nationalists who were eager to demonstrate in Kiev for the overthrow of a government. Others are weary of the new government and feel secure with a Russian presence. For the hundreds of thousands of Jews in this region, the decision to stay or leave is not easy. Every city has a different feel and every individual has his/her own opinion. Nonetheless, for whatever reason they choose, Jews in the region, can decide to make Aliyah to Israel. As the largest conduit for immigration to Israel, The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), with our support guides this process.
The current situation piqued my interest as to how this process actually goes. One doesn’t just get out of bed one morning and decide to leave and hop on a plane. The Aliyah process is a well oiled machine which JAFI has run for decades. Any region has access either personally or remotely to a Shaliach, a JAFI representative who will meet and discuss what immigration options are best and the best path towards housing, employment and language.
In decades past all Jewish immigrants took a similar route through an absorption center. Today, there are different program options depending on age, employment opportunities, absorption center availability and personal preference. After discussions, paper work, and eligibility is attained, the physical process of Aliyah starts with a JAFI provided one way airline ticket to Israel. Upon arrival, depending on prior program placements, individuals and families will either go into private housing or an absorption center. Free transportation is also provided from the airport to “home”. Olim (immigrants) to Israel receive substantial financial assistance, housing assistance, free language classes, educational benefits, and tax benefits. Other programs may pair Olim with other Israelis who will help them become acclimated. Levels of financial assistance vary depending on carefully constructed criteria. Your support of our global Federation system is our way in the Diaspora of helping to shoulder the financial burden of our brothers and sisters making Aliyah.
Although most Ukrainians are staying put for the time being, there is a considerable uptick in inquiries, applications, and actual moves in the region, though it is still only numbering the hundreds per year. As one Jewish Agency Official told me, most Ukrainian Jews see Israel as their insurance policy. They are well aware that the Aliyah option is there, and will “cash in” on their insurance policy when they feel that the economic or personal security of themselves and their families is irrevocably threatened. For more information regarding the Aliyah process, visit www.jafi.org
UPDATE ON JDC EMERGENCY EFFORTS IN UKRAINE
With the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis it became clear that immediate additional attention and support was required to assist our fellow Jews as they are weathering the emotional, physical and mental effects of the emergency. Despite the difficulties of working in Ukraine during this period, JDC continues to provide essential humanitarian assistance to thousands of impoverished Jewish elderly and at-risk children and their families. Thanks to steadfast core support of the Jewish Federation network and those Federation partners and funders who have provided extra funding to address the emergency assistance needs that are so pressing in Ukraine, JDC has been successful in utilizing the significant infrastructure in place throughout the region to respond to the needs on the ground over the past two months.
JDC operates 32 Hesed relief centers across Ukraine through which destitute Jewish elderly and at-risk children and their families receive essential care. Hesed centers were functioning prior to the crisis—serving over 60,000 elderly and close to 9,000 children and their families with food, medicine, homecare, winter relief and other essential services. Since the onset of the crisis, which has brought with it increasing economic hardships as well as intensified anxiety and uncertainty, the Heseds have increased services and Hesed workers are operating at above full capacity to reach and provide the needed support to those Jews who require the most assistance. Examples of economic hardships:
- Since the beginning of February through the beginning of April 2014, the price for 95 octane gas has increased by 20%.
- Price surveys for the 25 most frequently purchased medicines (in Kiev) have increased in a range of 7% – 71% since mid-January and the end of March.
- A survey of the mostly purchased food stuffs shows the following increases: oil – 22%; rice – 20%; chicken – 43%; flour – 20%; beets – 23%; cabbage – 55%; potatoes – 19%; sour cream – 25%; milk, cheese and eggs – 7%; sugar and tea – 12%.
- Increases in energy costs are being reported.
- Layoffs and redundancies throughout Ukraine are growing.