This Sunday, a delegation of eight prominent members of the Bergen County Jewish community, centered on the county’s East Hill, will leave for Poland.
The group, organized by Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, will bring 50 duffel bags of supplies with them; they’ll give those bags to refugees from Ukraine, whether or not they’re Jewish, depending simply on whether the refugees need them.
The supplies, which were collected in a matter of days, are just a portion of what people have brought to Emanu-El, to Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, Temple Sinai in Tenafly, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, and other collection points. Rabbi Kirshner hopes that other trips, soon to be planned and soon to leave, will bring the rest of the supplies, which he hopes will keep coming.
It is important both to send money and to bring material goods to help the refugees, he said. It’s easier and more efficient to send money to buy the things that are available in the countries to which the refugees are fleeing, and in Ukraine itself, but there are many shortages. “Imagine what it would be like to have an extra 100,000 or 200,000 people in Bergen County,” he said. You’d run out of things.
Rabbi Kirshner, Ahavath Torah’s Rabbi Chaim Poupko, and most likely Sinai’s Rabbi Jordan Millstein will be on the trip; they’ll be joined by the JCC’s new CEO, Steve Rogers, JCC board chair Jodi Scherl, and JCC board members Arthur Sinensky and Josh Weingast.
Two leaders of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey — its CEO, Jason Shames, and its immediate past president, Roberta Abrams, also are going to Poland next week; they will be part of the group organized by the Jewish Federations of North America.
Rabbi Kirshner organized the four-day trip. There are four distinct reasons for making it, he said.
First, “sometimes, in Judaism, you just know that you need to be somewhere else. Indeed, this is one of those times. I know that I need not to be at home, comfortable, in Closter.
The second item is practical. It’s faster to bring supplies than to ship them. “It would be a matter of two or three weeks if we sent this stuff. I can bring it myself, right now.
“Thirdly, chizuk” — encouragement, lending strength through presence — “matters. We learn that when there are crises, people crave it. We are telling the people of Ukraine that we stand with them, and we will continue to be with them. This is mission-critical, and we can’t do it from Closter.
“And fourthly, these Jewish communities — the JCCs in Krakow and Warsaw, the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva in Lublin, which all are working with refugees — “are doing the opposite of what happened during the Shoah. They are places that are taking in Jews and other refugees from a country that they are being forced out of. I want to go to the JCCs in Krakow and Warsaw, to the yeshiva in Lublin, and tell the good people who are working tirelessly there that they have backup. They have support. And we love them.
“Can you imagine going to Poland and not going to Auschwitz or Birkenau? We’re going to Poland to help, not to remember.”
And then there’s a last thing, he said. “In all humility, we’re community leaders. We have a responsibility to lead. To observe, and to bring back what we see.”
All parts of the community are working together, Rabbi Kirshner added. This trip, small as it is, will include representatives from Orthodox, Conservative, and (if the logistics work from Rabbi Millstein) Reform synagogues, as well as the community-based JCC. “This is not a time for denominationalism,” Rabbi Kirshner said.
And the help that the bring will go to anyone who needs it. “We are helping refugees,” Rabbi Kirshner said. “There is no litmus test. In fact, there are no questions asked. If you are hungry, if you need a place to stay, if you are in need, we will help.
“We are all one community.”