As you know, the crisis in Ukraine has dramatically escalated and Russia has officially begun its large-scale invasion. By this point, you have undoubtedly seen the horrific images of individuals and families fleeing for their lives. Sadly, these images and stories—of violence against innocent civilians, families splitting up, and household belongings stuffed quickly into one bulging suitcase—are tragically familiar. The events we are witnessing right now in Ukraine recall painful collective memories in recent Jewish history, such as the pogroms at the turn of the last century.
What is happening right now goes to the deepest fears of Jews, and triggers feelings of trauma and dread for so many. After all, we know how antisemitism can and will be exacerbated by conflict and chaos. We also know the experience of being forced to escape from war and oppression, starting over in a new land. When JFS opened its doors in 1892, our original purpose was to resettle Jews escaping persecution and harm in their home countries, including the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe. The responsibility to meet the specific needs of Jewish individuals and families was at the core of our founding and remains as critical to us now as it was then.
Today, that responsibility extends to the broader community as well. JFS works with refugees from all over the world, and we have a long history of resettling refugees from the former Soviet Union (including Ukrainian Jews and non-Jewish Ukrainians) who turn to us for assistance. This work began in the 1970s, with the arrival of dozens of Russian Jewish families who came to the U.S. to escape the systemic discrimination they faced as Jews.
Once the doors opened for Jewish emigration in 1988, JFS was at the forefront in relocating Refuseniks and other Jews from the former Soviet Union (FSU) in Washington state. This included finding housing for families, assisting them with necessary benefits like health insurance and medications, enrolling them in ESOL (English as a Second Language) classes, and reaching out to the community for help with furniture and clothing donations (see photo above). The introduction of the Lautenberg Amendment helped religious minorities from FSU countries and elsewhere find safe passage to the United States where they could be reunited with family members already living here. Because the program is for religious minorities, the grounds for eligibility are more narrow than other refugee pathways.
Since 2006 alone, JFS has resettled 792 Ukrainians, including Jews, and helped welcome them to Seattle—home to a robust and established community of both Russians and Ukrainians. Over the past five years, our Refugee & Immigrants (RIS) team has resettled more clients from Ukraine than any other country except Afghanistan. Lautenberg clients are eligible for any of the services other RIS clients receive, including resettlement, job placement and employment counseling, and adjustment of status.
Many JFS clients from Ukraine and Russia are also Holocaust survivors, like Evelina. Our Older Adult Services (OAS) team supports survivors with a variety of practical and emotional resources that allow them to age in community with dignity and comfort. These services include individualized care management, in-home care, emergency financial assistance, Shabbat meal deliveries, and Jewish holiday baskets. We also provide weekly culturally appropriate socialization opportunities in Russian.
Several of our staff members who work with our clients from the FSU are Ukrainian and Russian themselves. For them, navigating this uncertain moment is doubly challenging and very personal. Every day, they care for others, providing emotional support and answering phone calls from frightened community members, while worrying about their own friends and family. They continue to show remarkable resilience in the face of unimaginable circumstances.
No one knows for certain what the coming days, weeks, and months will bring. We are learning new information minute by minute, and are continuing to monitor the situation through our partner, HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). We remain committed to serving the Ukrainian community (both Jewish and non-Jewish alike) as we have done for more than 50 years. We will keep you updated as the situation evolves.
If you’d like to make a gift to support our resettlement efforts, please click here. Thank you.
Your friends at JFS
Feature image by Kostiantyn Stupak from Pexels