Somewhat unedited thoughts and reflections...
I sat and read my reflections from nearly three years ago when I visited the Ukraine in April of 2019. There is one word that stands out and feels dramatic in the back drop to the news I have consumed over the last week. Vibrant. Three years ago, I used this word to describe different elements of Jewish community, of the cities of Kyiv, Kharkov, and Odessa, and especially of the individual people. I used the word vibrant multiple times when writing about Ukraine. I think at the time in 2019, I was somewhat shocked or at least had an element of surprise in a visit to the Former Soviet Union of what existed there. When I spoke with elderly people I considered all that they HAD been through and yet where they found joy, strength, and an outlook for the next generation.
As I sit here in the US today, I can only think about the devastation and how so much of that vibrancy is currently being stripped away. Even if this were to stop tomorrow, you cannot change what has already happened. The next step would not be over overnight. Every Ukrainian person’s life has been changed and shifted from this point forward, arguably all of us around the world are continually changed because of war. This will be yet another generation who has (G-d willingly) lived through war. Instead of focusing on culture, arts, religion, connection, community, philanthropy, and being able to get creative with limited resources, they will be back to worrying about basic needs, something that still existed prior to this war, but will be much deeper after. Figuring out the basic needs to survive, to live, to rebuild or to leave like so many have done or might do.
As I sit in my house in Michigan, I am consistently reminded that I am here because of a time when people left. I pulled out a map that my Dad has showing that part of the world pre-1900 which highlights where my grandfather was from. My father had circled small shtetls and written names of a few other people in the family. These are locations of ancestors of people who also were forced or made difficult decisions to leave. Many of us are here in America because of those decisions. The places on the map were part of Ukraine. When we think about where we are from – while I don’t speak the language or have specific ties – when I was there, it was something of feeling it, connecting with it. The history that LIVES there is real.
Many times, when we think of war, when we think of dark times we imagine a different century, a different decade, or a time “before”. Right now, is the moment we live through, it’s these moments we will read about later, that we will try to describe to children and grandchildren. This isn’t a far-off land – let’s be honest in today’s world of hyper connectedness it becomes harder and harder to find a far-off land. But this is a place that I wanted to go back to, that I felt connected to. I was excited to inspire and share with others, to research more of my own family’s history and find those small shtetls. We already knew some of that would be quite difficult because of other wars and the last impact they left – but what will it be now. Devastating. But ultimately, this isn’t about me and my connection. This is about the people who are in Ukraine here and now – who for any number of reasons may not be able to leave, cannot get out, or for no other reason than they believe in their own country are fighting for their lives, for their freedom, and for their country. It’s about the people – good and vibrant people. People who are resilient, who are of a new generation, and especially those who lived through multiple wars and all those same people who will need so much support in the coming days.
It can feel empty to give dollars to a fund and not really know what will happen to it. But there are organizations on the ground that will be there now, and into the future. There are many organizations out there and find the one that speaks to you, that is trustworthy. My connection happens to be to JDC. I spent a year getting to understand the organization and it was because of them that I got to experience Ukraine deeply, in a real way. I know the impact and depth of their work with both the Jewish and secular communities, their ability to provide humanitarian aid where it is needed and what is necessary for people in the place they are in. While it can feel empty to only be able to give from so far away – it has impact. Really and truly.
The people of Ukraine are in my thoughts and prayers. The people of other countries who are suffering or who are being pulled into a war that they don’t agree or support are in my thoughts and prayers. Life isn’t simple anywhere, but it feels even less so from across the world.