“And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” Esther 4:14
This question/suggestion from Mordechai to Esther has resonated throughout the four zoom calls of Wexner Alums gathering to explore what we can do to respond to the crisis in Ukraine.
We’ve been gathering weekly to explore different modes of response-and testing the question of what could this network do individually and collectively at a moment of crisis such as this.
The Wexner Heritage Program ran two adjacent cohorts in New York in 2016. One cohort was made up of Russian ( and Ukrainian) Speaking Jews and the other a mix of more mainstream, majority, Ashekanzi Jews. Our groups periodically learned together outside of the week-long retreats.
One enduring coming together has been our shared Whatsapp Chat. Forty of us engage in information sharing, silly memes, and lots of political and at-times charged banter. In the early days of the invasion of Ukraine, the discussion was intense with wonderings about why the U.S. is not doing more as a sovereign Democratic country is getting invaded and its citizens are being cut off from vital life supplies and indiscriminately killed. There were people in our group with family and friends in Ukraine. There was also a sense of overwhelm and powerlessness, what can we do to stop this?
A few of us heard both a cry for help and a sense of powerlessness. We coordinated a call to talk about what to do and decided to hold a zoom call for our two groups and opened it up to others in the Wexner network.
That first call had nearly 50 attendees. We opened the call with a powerful dvar from Rabbinic Student Andrew Mandel (NY 16). We heard Michael Gorn (RSJ 16) and Zhenya Lopatnick who have family in Ukraine, their sense of what was happening and opportunities to provide direct aid to those fighting on the front lines and those in need of humanitarian assistance. We heard from Kerry Newman (NY 16) from UJA who expertly summarized the current Jewish communal response. Finally, we discussed opportunities for advocating to our government to do more. I explained how our elected representatives view constituent feedback and provided contact information and sample scripts for those who wanted to call. We also created a resource document of actions people can take from direct service, to philanthropy to advocacy to psycho-social and spiritual support.
In the intervening meetings we put out an action alert to support the Ukraine Aid package, which swiftly passed Congress. We also amplified the call of Don Abramson (SF 2) and Joe Kanfer for a communal fast to draw attention to the crisis in Ukraine.
We’ve heard dvars from Rabbi Joanna Samuels (WGF/DS 10) of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan , David Lowenfeld (WHP NY 3), and Rabbi Steven Exler (WGF/DS 17).
We’ve been brought back to the urgency of the moment through personal accounts of the crisis from Stella Binkevich (RSJ 16) and Yelena Kutikova (WHP RSJ 16).
We’ve learned about responses in the field from Danny Kahn, Chair of Natan, Karyn Gershon (WHP Chicago Pro-99), Executive Director, Project Kesher, Rabbi Ben Berger (WFF 5), Vice President for Jewish Education and Experience, Hillel International and Magda Dorosz, Executive Director, Hillel Warsaw, and Sergei Demchuk & Nataliia Tkachenko, co-founders of Sokyra Charity, an organization bringing top equipment to the front line and others.
We’ve explored the U.S. Government Response with Daniel Silverberg (spouse of a Wexner alum), Former Foreign Policy Staff Member for Congressman Steny Hoyer (MD-05) and a current staffer for Chairman Gregory Meeks of the House Foreign Relations Committee.
We’ve received feedback that these have been the most informative and moving calls people have participated in on this topic, very much in the tradition of what we received as participants in the Wexner program.
As we approach the one-month marker of this conflict, with ongoing violence and increasing destruction and humanitarian impacts, the question still remains: what can we do and what can this network do?
We invite you to join us in exploring what opportunities exist for this network to come together and harness our power to change the end of an all-too-familiar story. The next call is Wednesday, March 30th at 12 pm EST. You can RSVP here. Gratitude to those who have been involved in the planning and facilitation of these calls:
Stella Binkevich (RSJ 16), Misha Gorn (RSJ 16), Alex Yaroslavsky (RSJ 16), Emily Gindi (NY 16), and Bruce Goldberger (NY 16), and Kerry Newman (NY 16).
May the one who makes peace bring peace down and may we do our part to hasten that time.
Photos provided by the author
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WHP Alum Elana Shneyer (NY 16) currently works an independent consultancy focused on government and community relations, politics, and not-for-profit organizational strategy, growth, capacity building, and performance management enhancement.