Even amid a crippling humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) will hold a variety of Passover-related activities – from Seder feasts to matzah baking and Passover cooking workshops – for thousands of Jews at JDC’s 32 Hesed social welfare centers and JDC-supported Jewish Community Centers on both sides of the ceasefire line throughout Ukraine. In addition, JDC volunteers and staff will deliver nearly 48,000 free packages of matzah, the unleavened bread traditionally consumed on the holiday, to needy Ukrainian Jews.
In Donetsk and Lugansk, cities severely damaged during fighting and now under separatist control, JDC will hold matzah-baking classes for children, Seders for the elderly, and workshops on Passover foods and customs. In Mariupol, a rocket-stricken town just outside the rebel-held area, children will make matzah and a special women’s Seder will be conducted. Similar events will take 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 – will also attend Passover activities. In Kiev, Kharkov, and Odessa, Seders for the elderly will be 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 will include families at risk and displaced Jews in a special Passover picnic.
In Dnepropetrovsk, a special “Pesach University” will be organized to teach young people how to conduct a Seder. And in Odessa, Passover cooking classes with be part of Seder activities at the Beit Grand JCC while in other cities in the region – Nikolayev, Kherson, Kirovograd – visits by young volunteers to isolated elderly and the displaced will be part of community-wide festivities.
Since the crisis in Ukraine began, JDC has deployed emergency services assisting thousands of Jews caught in the conflict, including: extra food, medicine, and medical care; crisis-related home repairs; extra winter items such as 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 JDC’s aid rolls, many who never needed JDC assistance in the past. These include working or middle class Jewish individuals and families who find themselves struggling with conflict-related unemployment and general economic distress.
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. JDC’s history of working with Ukrainian Jews includes its work with the American Relief Administration in 1921 to administer an aid program for Ukrainians impacted by war and famine, including the Jewish community. Additionally, Agro-Joint, established in 1924, created Jewish agricultural colonies and industrial schools in Ukraine and Crimea.
JDC’s work in Ukraine is undertaken in cooperation with the local Jewish community and groups like Chabad. JDC’s work is generously support by its Board, individual donors and foundations, and their partners, including the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Jewish Federations of North America, World Jewish Relief, and the Conference on Jewish Materials Claims Against Germany.
Photos from a children’s Passover celebration at Beit Grand JCC, Odessa; courtesy JDC