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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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St. Louis Jewish Light

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Abby Goldstein’s JFNA Ukraine mission began with night in bomb shelter

The next morning, the delegation visited the places where they have been helping people live and escape.
Abby Goldstein

On Tuesday, Aug. 15, before retiring for the evening, Abby Goldstein and the other members of the Jewish Federations of North America‘s Ukraine Response Task Force were told to keep their passports and clothes close by in case of an emergency. At 4 a.m. that emergency became real life. Goldstein, a lay leader with the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, was in her hotel room in Lviv, a city in the western region of Ukraine, when air raid sirens blared.

“I was so exhausted from traveling that I didn’t even hear the sirens,” said Goldstein. “The floor security guard pounding on my door woke me up. He said I had just a few minutes to gather my things and get down to the bomb shelter.”

The bomb shelter was the hotel basement. The Americans spent two hours there blissfully unaware of just where the attacks were taking place. They later learned that missiles hit an area about 30 minutes away and lives were lost.

Goldstein, who lives in Clayton, and the group arrived just the day before on a solidarity mission to visit several war-torn communities and assess the current on-the-ground needs and how the group’s more than $90 million in relief aid was making a difference in daily lives.

“When we crossed over the border (into Ukraine), we were all commenting on how normal it felt. Parents pushing baby strollers, shops were open and restaurants were packed. It didn’t feel like a city in the middle of the war,” said Goldstein.

But the morning’s events quickly reminded everyone that Lviv and the nation of Ukraine were indeed in the middle of a war.

“I kept thinking, this is how Ukrainians live. Every day they face real threats. I was tired and exhausted, but then I remembered that these people are exhausted like this every day, and they find a way to carry on,” said Goldstein.

On a mission

Despite the chaotic morning, the 12 members of the JFNA delegation, which included Eric Fingerhut, the organization’s president and CEO, did as the Ukrainian people do, they carried on.

Among the sites visited was Hesed Arieh in Lviv. Here the American Jewish Joint Distribution Center provides services, material and medical assistance, and Jewish programming for the city’s elderly and poor and the wider Jewish community.

“We met folks who come to Hesed, which is like a small JCC, to connect and not feel alone,” said Goldstein. “One woman, in her 80s, told me that she is lucky to have Hesed because many people living in Ukraine aren’t supported as she and the Jewish community is in Lviv.”

With Tatiana at Hesed Center in Lviv

The center is also home to a “warming hub,” which will be used by local Jews in need during the harsh winter months, as well as a volunteer hub, staffed by local Jewish volunteers of all ages.

On the second day, Goldstein and the group visited the small village of Polyana, where the Jewish Agency for Israel had built an overnight summer camp for Jewish children. Here the group met many children who had lost homes in nighttime bombings or had parents still fighting on the front lines. The camp, for many of the kids, was their first exposure to Judaism.

JAFI camp Kaits Sheli

“I met a 9-year-old boy in the camp, who like my own kids was obsessed with soccer,” said Goldstein. “He was kicking a ball and I asked him who is favorite player was and he told me Reynaldo. I told him my kids loved Messi. He said Reynaldo was ‘way better’ and then he told me how a bomb went off next to his house. From Reynaldo to his house being bombed. It gave me chills.”

The mission to Ukraine lasted four days.

In addition to $90 million for humanitarian aid and relief for Ukrainians, Jewish Federations have also sent over 150 Russian and Ukrainian-speaking Jewish volunteers to placements on the Ukraine border and continue to provide critical support for the Ukrainian Jewish community within Ukraine as well as those that fled to other locales.

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

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About the Contributor
Jordan Palmer
Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer
Jordan worked at KSDK from 1995 to 2020. Jordan is a three-time Emmy award winner who produced every kind of show from news to specials during his tenure, creating Show Me St. Louis, The Cardinal Nation Show. He started ksdk.com in 2001 and won three Edward R. Murrow Awards for journalistic and website excellence in 2010, 2014 and 2020. Jordan has been married for 25 years and is the father of two college students. He is an avid biker, snowboarder, and beer lover. He created the blog drink314.com, focusing on the St. Louis beer community in 2015. Jordan has an incredible and vast knowledge of useless information and is the grandson of a Cleveland bootlegger.