How the OU Is Helping in Ukraine

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in late February, OU Kosher, in close contact with the Jewish community there, began coordinating relief efforts.   Over the past month, food shipments and fundraising efforts have helped  provide the Jewish people of Ukraine with food, transportation and evacuation, hotels and shelters, medical supplies, resettlement and more.

OU Kosher is the Only Nonprofit Kosher Agency 

As the only nonprofit kosher certification agency, the OU provides a number of community services worldwide and as such maintains  a deep and robust infrastructure for fundraising and relief efforts. The Orthodox Union was founded in 1898 and began kosher certification in 1923. As part of the fabric of the Jewish community, the trust the OU enjoys for its kosher certification symbol extends to its efforts to help people in need.  The Jewish  community has without exception responded generously each time they’ve been called on to help. 

The OU’s response to crises, have not been limited to the Jewish community.  The OU has provided material and financial support for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, relief teams have helped rebuild homes following  natural disasters across the United States including Louisiana, Houston and Puerto Rico and most recently the OU provided ventilators for India at the height of its battle with the Pandemic.  

Ukraine fundraising efforts have yielded over 2.5 million dollars in donations from the Jewish community and very generous food shipments from some of its certified companies.  

Today the OU has people on the ground in Poland coordinating efforts.   “We’re not allocating funds to just one specific initiative,” notes Rabbi Simon Taylor, OU’s National Director of Community Projects and Partnerships. He is the point person on a joint effort of the OU and Agudath Israel, a nonprofit organization representing Orthodox Jews, to set up a central warehouse in Budapest to provide kosher food to refugee centers in Ukraine and Eastern Europe; they are currently working with 30 communities.

Dire Straits

Conditions in Mariupol, a port city of 420,000 on the Sea of Azov coast in southeastern Ukraine, were described early on by the city’s deputy mayor as approaching “a humanitarian catastrophe” after continual bombardment by the Russian Army, which had cut water and electrical power. Mariupol, a center of grain trade and iron and steel production, was considered a key strategic asset for Russia.

“The community has spent weeks without water and heat in sub-zero temperatures. They are huddled between walls, under staircases and in basements, hugging their kids and crying for help,” said Rabbi Mendel Cohen, the Chabad-Lubavitch leader in Mariupol.. “They need emotional, psychological and financial support. For some this is a traumatic reminder of the hardships they experienced as refugees of the 2014 Russian invasion of Donetsk and Lugansk.” 

Everyone Is Helping

A Ukraine Crisis Fund drive, with the slogan “The Jews of Ukraine Desperately Need Your Help,” went into action as soon as the Russian invasion started. The OU also began a daily campaign that coordinated prayers on behalf of the embattled Jewish community. And OU leaders maintained constant contact with the scattered or exiled leaders of Ukrainian Jewry, and with rabbis in the European countries where Ukrainian Jews were seeking refuge, to get updates on the needs of the community and to offer moral support. Even children are doing what they can, with these heart-warming cards of greeting and support.

 “Every penny that is donated to our Ukraine Relief Fund is distributed to those established on the ground who we have identified as doing the critical life-saving work required at this time,” said Rabbi Naftali Herrmann, executive director of the Synagogue Initiatives Department.

Emotional Support Too

To meet the needs of Ukrainian Jews who requested “emotional support” and prayers of Jews abroad, OU established a site where people can post messages of support and commit to praying for Ukrainian Jewry.

“Our fellow Jews either remain in Ukraine and are caught in the crosshairs of life-threatening peril, or have been thrust into the anguish and havoc of displacement as refugees,” said OU President Moshe Bane. “Every generation confronts historic opportunities to extend itself in support of fellow Jews in distress. Now is the time for us to express our deepest sense of responsibility of Jews for each other.”

 “Being on the inside from an organizational perspective, I constantly hear what’s going on on the ground. I know how much more can be done,” says Rabbi Taylor. “Those generous companies that have provided palettes of food should realize how much impact their donations have made. And at the same time the need has not abated.  Everything makes a difference.”

If  you have kosher food you’d like to contribute, please contact your RC.   

Gary Magder