Sacrifices Forged Into Blessings
What is happening in Ukraine is a tragedy. What is happening in Ukraine is an inspiration. In a world that seems increasingly unsafe for democracy, people around the world recognize that Ukrainians are not only fighting for their lives, their freedom and their nation, but also defending democracy. At the same time, there are reasons why the Jewish people feel these events on an especially profound level.
Surely our heritage teaches us to identify with the oppressed. Surely our values impose a responsibility, and our good fortune gives us the capacity to help.
And then there is our history. The vast majority of world Jewry today lives in free and democratic societies because of decisions our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents made to leave the lands of their birth. Every step and every breath we take flows from hard choices and sacrifices they made, which time has forged into blessings.
Of the multitude of lands from which we came, Ukraine is uppermost in our thoughts today. A substantial portion of both the American Jewish community and of Israel has roots there. Golda Meir and Sholem Aleichem, Mila Kunis and Natan Sharansky, Vladimir Horowitz and Oksana Baiul, Isaac Stern and Isaac Babel—and countless others—took their first breaths in Ukraine. Tens of thousands of Jews still live there. Even a large percentage of the Jews in Russia have ancestors who left Ukrainian cities, towns and shtetls.
As I write this column, I cannot know the outcome of the Russian invasion. But the courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people in the face of appalling death and destruction will certainly be etched in history, not to mention the boundless pride we have in Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Jewish president they elected.
Ukraine’s struggle has galvanized and strengthened the free world, more united today than at any time since the Cold War. Israel has been part of the global campaign to send assistance, and Hadassah is part of that effort.
Just days after Russia launched its unprovoked attack, the Hadassah Medical Organization sent its first shipment of medical equipment to aid victims. In March, our medical center began sending teams of health professionals to Poland. The first group went to the Medical University of Lublin, the regional trauma center closest to the Ukrainian border, to train medical personnel in dealing with serious trauma cases and mass casualties.
The second HMO team, comprising internists, pediatricians and nurses, was given medical responsibility for refugees at the border crossing close to Przemyśl in southeastern Poland. Among the personnel was Hadassah pulmonologist Dr. Alex Gileles-Hillel, who treated 4-year-old Yasinya, whose cystic fibrosis had gone unmanaged for days after she, her mother and older brother were forced to flee their hometown of Dnipro without Yasinya’s life-saving medicine. All our work is done in coordination with the World Health Organization, the Polish Red Cross and other humanitarian bodies.
Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America and Hadassah International are supporting these initiatives with fundraising campaigns. I urge you to visit the Hadassah website for updates on our activities and information on how you can help.
HMO has also helped some Ukrainians travel to Israel for treatment at our medical center. And in early March, the first group of young refugees reached our Meir Shfeyah Youth Village, where they were welcomed by staff as well as by resident youth from Ukraine who arrived before the war began.
Hadassah is taking action because that is what we do. The lesson of Israel’s rebirth, which we celebrate this spring on Yom Ha’atzmaut, is that miracles don’t come only from above. They come from the generosity, wisdom, skill and faith of people on the ground. They come from informed people who empower themselves and who pool their energies to change the world.
As we pray for freedom’s success, we must also work to see shattered lives and cities restored and the sacrifices Ukrainians make today forged into the blessings of the future.