Shabbat Message from Ezra S. Shanken

Shabbat for Ukrainian Jews

Shabbat Message from CEO Ezra S. Shanken


February 24, 2023 | 3 Adar 5783



This message has about 850 words and will take less than 3.5 minute to read.

This week, we were joined by staff from the JCC, Hillel, Jewish Family Services (JFS) and other organizations for a “Breakfast and Learn” with the visionary behind Birthright, Avraham Infeld. Avraham has an extraordinary and extensive resume, beginning with his time as the first community shaliach in Baltimore to his role as president emeritus of Hillel International.

He implored us to think deeper about Judaism, our own identities, and how we can be a community that is united, but not uniform. Speaking on the evolution of Jewish identity and our connection to Israel as a Jewish state, Avraham was able to address the concerns that many in our community are feeling about Israel right now in a way that was hopeful, constructive, and funny.

Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) remains active on this very charged topic.

As proposed judicial reforms continue to make headlines in Israel, new developments are occurring on an almost daily basis.

This week, JFNA sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid (original Hebrew version here) expressing our concerns over aspects of the reforms and urging the two sides to negotiate a compromise, based on the suggestions of President Isaac Herzog. News of the letter was widely reported in the Israeli press, and shortly after the letter was delivered, Prime Minister Netanyahu openly called for dialogue (see here) and Opposition Leader Lapid responded in a letter to Federations, stating that he agreed with our principles.

We were extremely encouraged by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement, and we strongly believe that the two sides should work to overcome the very small differences that remain in order to begin negotiations immediately. JFNA’s board chair, Julie Platt, responded with a video statement that was released publicly and widely circulated.

We could write an entire Shabbat Message every week about what is happening in Israel, but there are other areas of our work that we must report on, too.

Exactly one year ago, the Ukraine crisis began.

Immediately, Jewish Federations, the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and our partners mobilized to deliver humanitarian aid to Jews in Ukraine and those fleeing to neighbouring countries. This was a collective effort and that life-saving work continues today.

As we welcome Shabbat and light our candles tonight, we, too, are engaged in a collective effort, a timeless Jewish tradition. As we do so, let us reflect on the current crisis and help bring light to those Ukranian Jews still caught in darkness. As an act of solidarity, we invite you to join thousands of families in lighting a third candle tonight to mark "Shabbat for Ukrainian Jews".

This last year has been proof of the Federation system's impact when we support communities around the world.

We were able to spring into action the day the war broke out because we had invested in the necessary community infrastructure and nurtured it for decades. To date, Federations across 146 communities have raised $85 million USD, which has supported the work of our trusted international partners on the ground, the JDC, the Jewish Agency, and World ORT and has resulted in:

  • 500,000 people received humanitarian assistance, relief, or support
  • 700,000 meals distributed
  • 65,000 people supported in making aliyah
  • 130,000 received medical care
  • 4,000 medical and mental health professionals trained
  • 180,000 Ukrainian newcomers supported by our advocacy
  • 214,000 calls to a special Jewish Agency hotline to provide guidance
  • 455 buses from Ukraine to its borders
  • Housing of refugees in good hotels
  • Expediting Aliyah within one week, and much more.
Together, our community raised close to $1 million dollars to support our partners overseas as well as provide assistance locally. In collaboration with JFS, Tikva Housing and other community donors, we have provided financial assistance and resources to over 25 Jewish Ukrainian families including basic necessities, settlement assistance, rental subsidies, Jewish education, and English classes. We have also provided a grant to the Maple Hope Foundation to support their work in the Lower Mainland.

The Ukraine Jewish community is contending with a host of new winter-related challenges.

In response, and with Federation support, JDC, and their partners continue to provide aid. This includes:
  • Providing 22,000+ people with winter survival needs, including wood, coal, food, heaters, warm clothes, bedding, etc.
  • Community service centers are being converted into warming centers
  • Life-saving assistance and trauma support through JDC’s JOINTECH program
  • Resettlement and integration assistance, strengthening Ukrainian hospitals, and supporting access to healthcare for non-Jewish populations

A candle for Ukrainian Jews.

Together with our partners at JDC, we will mark a “Shabbat for Ukrainian Jews” by lighting an extra candle tonight, and we hope you will join us. As we pass our hands in front of our eyes, taking in the light and warmth of the Shabbat candle flames, let us remember those Jews trapped in darkness, in need of light, warmth, and hope.

We are incredibly proud of the response from our community thus far, but as the war continues, the needs continue. As we mark the anniversary of the start of the war this Shabbat, I want to remind you that our Ukraine Emergency Relief Fund to support these ongoing efforts remains open.


Shabbat Shalom.

Ezra S. Shanken
CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver

Avraham Infeld speaking at the Breakfast and Learn

JDC evacuating refugees in Ukraine