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Keeping Passover Spirit Alive in Ukraine

A volunteer on J-Serve, the National Day of Teen Service 2014

Against the backdrop of a crippling humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation’s longtime overseas partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), ensured that Passover continued uninterrupted for thousands of Jews at Hesed social welfare centers and Jewish community centers on both sides of the ceasefire line throughout Ukraine.

With support from the Annual Federation/UJA Campaign, volunteers and social-service professionals organized a variety of Passover-related activities – from seder feasts to matzah-baking and Passover cooking workshops – and delivered nearly 48,000 free packages of matzah to needy Ukrainian Jews.

In Donetsk and Lugansk, cities severely damaged during fighting and now under separatist control, JDC held matzah-baking classes for children, seders for the elderly, and workshops on Passover foods and customs.

In Mariupol, a rocket-stricken city just outside the rebel-held area, children made matzah and residents attended a special women’s seder. Similar events took place in Zaporozhie, Artyomovsk, Kramatorsk and Krovoy Rog.

Away from the frontlines, thousands of Jews – including hundreds of displaced Jews making new homes away from the separatist-controlled east – also attended Passover activities.

In Kiev, Kharkov, and Odessa, seders for the elderly were held at “Warm Homes” – apartments or other facilities where groups of seniors gather together to socialize, engage in cultural activities and celebrate holidays. Kiev’s Beiteinu Center hosted at-risk families and displaced Jews at a special Passover picnic.

In Dnepropetrovsk, a special “Pesach University” was organized to teach young people how to conduct a seder.

In Odessa, Passover cooking classes were part of seder activities at the Beit Grand JCC, while in other cities in the region – Nikolayev, Kherson, and Kirovograd – communitywide festivities included visits by young volunteers to isolated elderly and the displaced.

Since the crisis in Ukraine began, Federation funding has assisted thousands of Jews caught up in the conflict. Deployed services include extra food, medicine and medical care; crisis-related home repairs; warm bedding, clothing, utility stipends and space heaters; and a full aid package and emergency housing for displaced Jews.

As the crisis has worsened, 2,700 people have been added to the aid rolls, many who never needed assistance in the past. These include working- or middle-class Jewish families now struggling with conflict-related unemployment and general economic distress.

With Federation support, JDC has four major offices and operates and supports a network of 32 Hesed social welfare centers serving more than 70,000 Jews in need in more than 1,000 locations across Ukraine.

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