JFed’s Yawitz, Goldstein returning from Ukrainian border after bringing aid to refugees


Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

Two St. Louisans, Greg Yawitz, Chair of the Board of Directors of Jewish Federation of St. Louis, and Abby Goldstein, a lay leader at Federation, are on a mission to witness first-hand the largest refugee crises since the end of World War II. Yawitz and Goldstein departed St. Louis on March 20 on a flight bound for Warsaw. They are among dozens of American Jewish leaders and organizations traveling to be a part of a larger Jewish effort to help feed, clothe, and shelter Ukrainians in neighboring countries.

“I’ve got a carry-on for me and about 100 pounds of hats, gloves, socks, coats, Olivette Turkey Trot race shirts, Turkey Trot beanies, and more,” wrote Yawitz on social media. “Jewish Federation of St. Louis has already raised $610,000 for the crisis. I’ll be going to see our dollars at work, distributing the clothes I’m bringing with me, and letting refugees know the world cares about them.”

Much of that $610,000 raised by JFed, and the St. Louis Jewish community goes to helping the Jewish Agency For Israel’s relief efforts. In anticipation of a massive wave of immigration from Ukraine, the Jewish Agency for Israel has launched its “Aliyah Express” program to expedite the immigration process resulting in thousands of Ukrainian Jewish refugees arriving in Israel.

According to the Jewish Federation of North America, funds have also been allocated to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and World ORT, as well as United Hatzalah, Hillel International, Nefesh B’Nefesh, HIAS, Israel Trauma Coalition, Hadassah Medical Organization, Chabad-Lubavitch and Sh’ma Yisrael.

Tuesday morning

Early Tuesday morning, Yawitz and Goldstein, along with their 100 pounds of clothing items, traveled to the Polish town of Lublin, where the JDC took over the Chachmei Lublin Yeshivah Synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis in World War II and which has since found many other uses. It is currently a processing center for refugees, where they are receiving food, housing and medical care.

Here, Yawitz and Goldstein and other Jewish leaders dropped off over 1,000 pounds of supplies for refugees.

“The JDC never says no. From the time they get a hotline call for help from the border they have four hours to find accommodations for refugees and that’s what they do,” posted Yawitz.

Next, Yawitz and Goldstein traveled three hours south from Lublin, to the border town of Medyka. Medyka is just two hours west of Lviv, Ukraine. Here, the delegation could see the faces of the refugees and witness the true strain and anxiety of Jewish refugees fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“Words can’t accurately describe what is both immensely hopeful and immensely tragic,” posted Yawitz. “I am filled with pride that the first thing refugees see when they cross into Polish territory is the Israeli flag and The Jewish Agency for Israel and JDC tents.

Shining Star

Yawitz also saw firsthand the new Israeli humanitarian field hospital “Shining Star,” a 66-bed hospital set to be open 24/7 and staffed by more than 60 personnel. It will be able to serve 150 patients at a time and includes a triage area, an ER ward, men’s, women’s and children’s wards, labor and delivery facilities, imaging and telehealth technologies, mental health services, a lab, a pharmacy and an outpatient clinic.

“There are tents from countries around the globe with free food and supplies and even a volunteer in costume handing out toys and candy to the children to bring them a little joy,” posted Yawitz.

First but not the last

The first organized humanitarian mission of the North American Jewish community for Ukrainians will be far from the last.

“The work is not over.  The issues now are what’s going to happen to these people. Where are they going to go if they can’t go back? Will they go to Israel, to the U.S.?” said Yawitz. “They have nothing. Most left without any documentation. They need so much, and while I’m seeing, tragedy and hope at the same time, it’s the unknowns that are the most difficult to contemplate.”

JFNA says it has raised some $30 million for Ukraine relief, with funds going towards sustaining displaced Jews outside of camps and shelters with food, medicine, appliances, and clothing, as well as increasing cash assistance to the elderly, to children and to vulnerable families who are in financial turmoil and face physical threats.

Indescribable pain

As the clock ticked on their visit to the border, Yawitz found himself back at Chachmei Lublin Yeshivah Synagogue, where a group of refugees was sitting, calmly retelling the stories of their experiences. For a moment, Yawitz made eye contact with the storyteller and was overcome.

“I felt their devastation. I looked right into her eyes, and it was just horrible.  You could see what was going on in her head, and yet she still had hope. I could see it,” said Yawitz. “The experiences, these people had, are unimaginable.”

How to help

“What is next? The need continues to grow as the war drags on and as the refugees leaving are in deeper need as that continues,” said Brian Herstig, President & CEO of Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

With the safety of at least 200,000 Jews at risk, JFed is supporting the work of our global partners on the ground in Ukraine, Russia, and Poland to address immediate needs. Every dollar raised will go to these organizations.

Checks for the emergency fund for Ukraine can be made payable to the Jewish Federation of St. Louis and mailed to P.O. Box 790436, St. Louis, MO 63179-9826. For other questions, contact Charlie Meyers at [email protected] or 314-442-3831.

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