Rabbi Noah Farkas is the CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater LA. He is leading a humanitarian relief trip to Poland and the Ukranian border.
“I’m at the Warsaw train station, where many of these refugees first find their way into Poland,” said Rabbi Farkas while recording the situation on smartphone.
He hit the ground running after landing in Poland on Monday morning. The CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles traveled there to help coordinate relief efforts.
“Behind me is a food distribution center where refugees are able to pick up dried goods, toothpaste, toiletries, and then in this tent right next to me is where they can get their first hot meal,” Farkas said.
He took this picture of a free tea station for refugees set up by the City of Warsaw, and the hospitality of the Polish people impressed him.
“They know after a long journey in the cold, one of the things you might want is just a cup of tea,” Farkas said.
More than 3 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the invasion began, with the majority escaping to Poland.
“It is a sea of women and children and that is because the men are left behind — to fight,” Farkas said.
He said the Jewish Federation and its partners are helping around 100 families a day fleeing Ukraine — assisting them with everything from documentation and travel logistics to providing medicine and nutrition.
“I asked one of the young women who have two children, one an 8-year-old and one a 4-year-old, if she’s been in contact with her husband and she said. ‘yes.’ Every two days, they arrange for him to go to a payphone to call her and so far, they’re in touch, but she doesn’t know how long that’s gonna last,” he said.
So far, the Jewish Federation has raised more than $1.5 million to support relief efforts in Ukraine. Farkas said the refugees feel scared, lost and confused about their situation.
“Most of these folks just have a bag or two and a couple of blankets. They fled with nothing and arriving at the train station, they feel like the worst is behind them but they are so uncertain of where to go,” Farkas said.
For himself and many other Jews, the war in Ukraine can pack a more personal punch — conjuring up painful images of an all-too familiar Jewish history.
“To see how an authoritarian dictator role over a democracy brings up all sorts of memories of WWII, of the Holocaust, and even for Jews who are not Ashkenazic, not from that area, Jews from Iran, Jews from Iraq, Jews from other places around the world, see when they were run out from their own cities,” Farkas said.
And even after the clouds of war eventually clear, Farkas said the fallout from the violence will linger for years.
“There are still going to be millions and millions and millions of displaced people who either can’t go home or the home that they go back to will be completely destroyed, so we have to be prepared that this is a long-term crisis and that we have a long-term responsibility to each and every one of those individuals who ran for their lives,” Farkas said.
Helping them start new lives is a responsibility he said none of us should ignore.
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