May 18, 2022
The trip was very moving and enlightening. It was planned to be a 5th anniversary celebration of the opening of the AJC Central Europe Office but ended up being very focused on the war in Ukraine, the refugee crisis and the politics in the countries our group visited, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.
Our meetings with diplomats and the Jewish communities also focused on the relationship with Israel and the well-being of the Jewish communities in each of the countries we visited. The day before the mission officially began some of us were able to visit the border (with supplies to deliver). We saw the reception center where arrangements are made to transport incoming refugees to safe locations. We also ate dinner provided by the World Central Kitchen, which is serving meals at multiple border crossings, inside Ukraine, and inside the countries accepting refugees. That night, our caravan was able to transport 9 refugees from the border to Warsaw. We passed by a 7-mile line of trucks carrying supplies that had to be inspected before being able to enter Ukraine.
Jewish Philanthropies are providing support to Jewish and non-Jewish refugees. On our track, the local JCC's, the Jewish Agency and The American Joint Distribution Committee are collecting supplies, feeding and sometimes housing refugees and running nursery schools, and arranging for travel to the next destination.
AJC is helping to provide lots of needed items. We donated iPads so students could do virtual schooling with their class back home in Ukraine; saw firsthand the truckloads of supplies purchased by AJC being sent from a warehouse in Bratislava; and of course, AJC has helped charter planes and travel with refugees to Israel.
The generosity and hospitality of civil society to the refugees in the countries we visited (especially Poland) is incredible. The governments have been receptive and helpful to varying degrees.
Members of our group met with Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland. There was also a reception and briefing with Mark Brzezinski (journalist Mika's brother and Zbigniew Brzezinski's son), among other meetings.
David Harris was honored at a Gala dinner at Warsaw Royal Castle that was attended by many dignitaries and community leaders, including a Polish Community of Conscience.
The Jewish communities in Eastern Europe look to AJC to support them regarding issues of rewriting of Holocaust history, reparations, and fostering democratic values. There is a huge problem with misinformation being spread by Russia throughout the region. The U.S. is not portrayed accurately, and it is a big challenge to reach the populations that are influenced by Russian news sources and false social media.
There is much more to share but these are some highlights. The trip was uplifting and disturbing at the same time. AJC is very much needed in that part of the world.
Lynne Reich is a member of the AJC Chicago Board