After seeing the JCC Halom's program space, I had the opportunity to go up to its very top floor, where the regional offices of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee are located.
Also known as the JDC or "the Joint," this global organization, which is supported by our Federation's annual campaign, works in nearly 70 countries around the globe "to alleviate hunger and hardship, rescue Jews in danger, create lasting connections to Jewish life, and provide immediate relief for victims of natural and man-made disasters."
I was honored to meet with Daniel Gershkovitz, the JDC's lead staff person in the Kiev region, a geographically large area (Upper Fairfield County is tiny, in comparison) reaching all the way to the western edge of the country, what can be a 12-plus hour drive from Kiev.
Of course any conversation I have with JDC staff begins with my asking if they know Asher Ostrin. They always do. Asher, who built the JDC's entire operation in the Former Soviet Union, also happens to have been the rabbi who bar mitzvah'ed me some 35 years ago.
Daniel explained to me the demographics and the challenges associated with those numbers in the region. In Kiev alone, the Jewish population is estimated at 60,000. Of that population, nearly one in every six is in need of hesed services from the JDC, the JDC's key welfare services which range from food and medicine cards to home care. In Lviv, at the region's western edge, roughly one in every three of the 8,000 Jews require similar services.
While funding exists through the Claims Conference to provide those services for Holocaust survivors, as the survivor population dwindles but the overall population in need remains rather consistent, it is creating a significant funding challenge for the JDC, which does not want to diminish its services, but has a greater reliance on outside funding in order to continue to serve all the population in need.
In total, there are 10 Hesed centers in the region, serving over 21,500 clients, of which today just over one-third are identified as nazi victims. That total includes over 16,000 clients receiving food and medicine cards and just under 4,000 needing homecare.
Beyond the homebound elderly, JDC in the region is focused on its Children's Initiative programming, ranging from the purchase of clothes and school supplies to psychological and speech therapist consultations. And, in recent years, the Joint faces the additional challenge of serving IDP's, internally displaced people who have become refugees from Eastern Ukraine, with nearly 1,200 in the 10 Hesed Centers and at JCC Halom receiving assistanc including food, medicine, and housing.
While the challenges are great, and the need for financial support will only grow with demographic shifts, we should be grateful to have such a strong organization working on our behalf to serve our extended Jewish family in the region.