A Message from The Matzevah Foundation's President
Twenty-three years ago, NATO bombs began falling across the territories of the former Yugoslavia, thus starting the war to halt the so-called “ethnic cleansing” occurring in Kosovo. It was the last war of the twentieth century. It led to one of the greatest humanitarian crises the world has seen, as roughly 600,000 Albanian Muslim refugees poured into neighboring countries.
Two weeks ago, Russia invaded the sovereign nation of Ukraine, beginning another war and forcing hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee Ukraine into neighboring European countries.
We are in the early stages of another significant humanitarian crisis. Undoubtedly, the war and the subsequent refugee crisis it birthed will impact what we, as The Matzevah Foundation plan to do this summer in Poland. The Jewish community of Poland and its many organizations and institutions with whom we partner are responding now to the most pressing needs of Jewish refugees fleeing Ukraine. Our Baptist friends and partners are opening their homes and churches to Ukrainian refugees. Other friends and partners are rendering aid at the border and elsewhere as refugees flood into Poland.
We realize the tenuous nature of the emerging catastrophe and understand that our partners are acting as the first responders on the front line and we want to support their efforts. Consequently, we loosely hold whatever project plans we have in place or envision for the summer. We do not know what will happen next, so we are keeping all options open moving forward. We will reassess the situation in the latter part of April before making any decisions regarding our summer projects.
Regardless of the current situation that we face in our work, our partners deal with tremendous change and challenges.
Understanding the War’s Impact
It is hard to imagine the far-reaching impact of war upon the lives of millions of people stricken by it. Generally, for most of us, it is too remote and abstract. But, then again, for us, as The Matzevah Foundation, it is even more challenging to comprehend when your friends and co-laborers are involved as they struggle to make sense of what is unfolding in Ukraine while responding to the war’s magnitude and devastation.
Marla and Jay Osborn are two such friends and partners we have collaborated with since 2014 in numerous projects throughout Poland. In August 2018, we joined them along with multiple American and Ukrainian volunteers to restore the Jewish cemetery of Marla’s ancestral home in Rohatyn, Ukraine.
Unfortunately, their work through the NGO they established, Rohatyn Jewish Heritage, is in limbo and may never be the same. Marla reports, “There is no Rohatyn work or project at this point - as long as the war rages, everything is on hold.”
It is difficult for her to even share this news with us because she “cannot emotionally deal yet with [it].” Likewise, it is challenging for her to consider “reaching out for help in Rohatyn,” she writes, “while we are not there” because of “this war, and people, friends, supporters have bigger issues” with which they are contending.
Marla and Jay stay abreast of the news coming out of Ukraine “very closely every morning, day, and night.” Also, they maintain contact with their “colleagues and friends in Ukraine.” She adds, “Thankfully, so far, everyone we know personally is safe, either in Ukraine or across the borders” in other European countries such as Poland. Despite this knowledge, she states, “[we] remain extremely concerned for all of them, and for, Ukraine, our home.”
Marla and Jay were in California for a short trip before the war broke out. So, apart from the clothes they packed, she declares, “everything we own - tools, clothes, books, additional computers - is back in our Lviv [apartment].” Therefore, she says, “We are refugees now, in the real sense of the word.”
The world they knew in Ukraine is gone, forever changed.
Subsequently, Marla writes, “I do not know even what to do next.” Their priorities now, she writes, are finding a place to live along with determining “how to keep Rohatyn Jewish Heritage alive, how to support dear friends back home in Ukraine.” Addressing these issues for them “is overwhelming, sad, and destabilizing mentally and physically,” Marla concludes.
In the end, Marla writes, “Ukraine will survive and re-build, the cost to lives and heritage and culture will be huge. I weep for all of this [situation].”
Despite these realities, Marla sees the need for the Jewish diaspora to be connected and updated by the constantly changing circumstances in Ukraine.
To this end, she is sharing information frequently on Facebook. For example, she shared a news report featuring “Sasha Nazar and other dear friends at the Lviv Volunteer Center who, despite difficult conditions including curfews and sirens,” continue their efforts “to restore the historic Jakob Glanzer synagogue.” Furthermore, she adds that this group is “also hosting dozens of Ukrainian families who have fled west due to the Russian War” along with “preparing barricades that can be erected on the city streets if necessary.”
Likewise, she shares on Rohatyn Jewish Heritage’s Facebook page news from their friends in Rohatyn, where “friends, students, and volunteers” took time during the day recently to sew “camouflage netting” and prepare “meals for defenders in bigger Ukrainian cities.” Finally, she provides information concerning avenues to support the ongoing war financially and humanitarian relief efforts as the crisis unfolds.
Like all of you, we will continue to monitor and discern the daily news. TMF is committed to standing with the people of Ukraine and that will play out in how we offer support, encouragement, and a listening ear to our friends in Eastern Europe. Please stay in touch with us through social media as to any further actions we may take in the coming days and weeks.
We also encourage you to follow some of our partners on social media. They are sharing about the work they are doing to render aid to refugees as well as sharing resources that are available to those who are arriving in Poland and for those remaining in Ukraine. These are trusted sources and we are inspired by their faithfulness and actions.
Rohatyn Jewish Heritage- FB and web
Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland - FB and web
MDSM / IJBS International Youth Meeting Center in Oświęcim - FB and web
Jewish Community of Warsaw- FB and web
Baptist Christian Church, Warsaw- FB and web
We join you all in prayer that these dark days for our world will come to a peace resolution quickly. May God bless the Ukrainian people around the world.
- Dr. Steven D. Reece, President of The Matzevah Foundation