The woman leading Ukrainian refugee efforts for the Jewish Federations of North America has a personal stake in the monthslong effort.
Elana Broitman was born in Odesa, Ukraine, when it was part of the former Soviet Union. She and her Jewish family escaped in 1975, eventually finding refuge in the U.S.
In the years since, Ms. Broitman has become involved in Jewish causes and political matters, once serving as an aide to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat.
Now she’s working to help those driven out of Ukraine by Russia’s invasion, regardless of whether they’re Jews.
So far, the Jewish Federations have launched a campaign that has raised $72 million to send to 50 non-governmental organizations in Ukraine, Poland and Hungary, among other efforts, she said.
“I think that the Jewish community in general, not just the Federation, there’s a personal history to our community that really understands the refugee experience, and is sympatheic to it,” Ms. Broitman said in a telephone interview from Tel Aviv.
Helping Ukrainian refugees — in neighboring countries, in Israel and in the United States — is “very personal, it feels like my life has come full circle,” she said. “I truly feel lucky, or blessed, that I’m able to give back in any small way.”
Ms. Broitman recalled that her family was brought to the U.S. by HIAS, the agency founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
She said a Jewish community center “first welcomed us” and credited “Federation infrastructure and philanthropies” that made such work possible. A Jewish summer camp helped her learn about the religion and the youth group BBYO involved her in the Jewish community, she said.
“I’m like a little byproduct of everything that we’re now supporting in terms of helping the refugees who are coming now,” she said.
Because Ukraine has restricted the emigration of men between the ages of 18 and 60, many, if not most, of the refugees are women and children, she said.
“They don’t know, in many cases, where their fathers or their husbands are, or their sons,” Ms. Broitman said.
The refugees will need mental health support, as well as help in getting homes, enrolling children in school and other forms of aid, she said.
“I’m also seeing a lot of innovation and how communities are just stepping up, no matter how the refugee finds themselves in that or how they encounter them,” Ms. Broitman said.
The philanthropic group’s senior vice president said all Ukrainians, not just the refugees, will need help after hostilities end.
“Even when it’s done, we don’t know how long it’s going to take to rebuild,” Ms. Broitman said. “I would anticipate that the refugee situation, whether in the U.S. or in the countries bordering Ukraine or even in Israel, I would anticipate we’re going to have refugees there for a while.”
She added that while financial donations “are valuable and appreciated … we would love people with any kind of time skill to contact the Federations’ Jewish Family Services, or even their local synagogues” to offer assistance.