Every evening for the last five months, Yulia has laid out mattresses on her living room floor in Netanya, Israel. Every morning she packs them away. Why? She’s hosting her grandmother, sister, and her young nieces who fled Ukraine when the war began. With Yulia, her husband, and their three young boys, there are now nine people living together in a cramped apartment.
Complicating matters, Yulia’s newly arrived family members are among 20,000 new refugees in Israel who don’t qualify for aliyah under the Law of Return. They are in Israel on three-month tourist visas that are being extended month-to-month, which means they can’t access government resources, including public education for the children. And private day care is far too expensive.
Yulia shares, “I searched for a long time to find a place where my nieces could enjoy themselves and play. For them to forget at least temporarily about the trauma that they faced. We are lucky they are here, away from everything. But they carry with them sounds of bombs and stories of murder, violence, and rape.”
She recalls how on Israel’s Independence Day this past May, when everyone else was happily watching as celebratory planes circled the sky, her traumatized young nieces thought bombs were about to drop.
Two weeks ago, thanks to a $2.5 million grant from UJA-Federation, Yulia received a call inviting the children to a summer program for 2- to 6-year-olds at a temporary education center near her home in Netanya. This is one of seven support centers recently created with our funding across Israel for Ukrainian refugees, with a team of therapists and educators at each center providing emotional support and early childhood education.
We’re also supporting summer camps for refugee children in Israel, ages 7-18. For kids who have experienced trauma, camp is an incredibly welcome return to normalcy, a place where kids can just be kids.
All told, between the education centers and camps, we’re benefiting 4,500 refugee children in Israel this summer.
And though the numbers of Ukrainian refugees in New York are far smaller, we’re doing the same here, funding scholarships for about 150 children at local UJA-supported summer camps, where they can play, swim, and craft in a nurturing environment.
As for Yulia’s family, they’re also able to access cash assistance and medical care through a fund UJA established, working in partnership with six municipalities in Israel that have significant Russian-speaking populations and are now welcoming refugees.
Sadly, stories like that of Yulia’s family are not uncommon. Indeed, the needs of refugees and the internally displaced only grow as time goes by. Most had thought they’d be home by now; instead, families remain separated, adults are without jobs and children without school. And while the war grinds on, the initial philanthropic infusion has dwindled and other headlines dominate the news, with less and less attention being paid to the humanitarian crisis, including the growing implications for Jewish communities in Russia and Belarus.
But Yulia’s family also gives us hope. The final piece to her story is a heartwarming example of how people (of all ages) can show their best selves in the worst of times.
Eager to help out, Yulia’s older son, Leon, just 9 years old, comes every day to the education center in Netanya. He’s offered his services as an unofficial translator, assisting the Hebrew-speaking preschool teacher to communicate with the Ukrainian children.