A woman holds a dog at the Uzhhorod-Vysne Nemecke checkpoint on the Ukraine-Slovakia border, Feb. 27, 2022. (Photo/Ukrinform via Depositphotos)
A woman holds a dog at the Uzhhorod-Vysne Nemecke checkpoint on the Ukraine-Slovakia border, Feb. 27, 2022. (Photo/Ukrinform via Depositphotos)

Federation collects over $1.3 million for Ukraine in first days of fundraising

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Every 45 seconds. That’s how frequently donations came flooding into the Jewish Community Federation’s website in the first hour after the S.F.-based agency opened its emergency relief fund for refugees fleeing Ukraine.

Since March 3, when Joy Sisisky, the Federation’s interim CEO and chief philanthropy officer, sent out an email to the community, over $1.3 million in immediate relief funding has been collected.

Donations are coming in the form of checks in the mail, people calling the Federation and reading off their credit card numbers and through the online site. The Federation has tracked 777 online donations as of Friday morning, with an average donation of $266, totaling $206,828.

Joy Sisisky
Joy Sisisky

“The response from our Bay Area Jewish community is really extraordinary,” Sisisky told J. “It is a very humbling experience to be able to work together to make sure that we can help the Ukrainian Jewish community and put those dollars to work in the field immediately.”

Additional funds are pouring in through grants that come from 115 of the Federation’s donor-advised funds, totaling $438,970, as well as five other foundations that have donated to the Federation’s Ukrainian Emergency Fund, totaling $677,500.

Sisisky gets daily updates from the Federation’s partner overseas, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, better known as the JDC. There are volunteer teams at Ukraine’s borders with Poland, Romania and Moldova. They wear puffy blue jackets with the JDC name visible to refugees.

“When they cross the border, they know who to look for,” Sisisky said.

JDC volunteers hand out food, water and toys, and they help direct refugees to buses that can take them to hotels.

“It’s a critical first step in what is going to be a very long journey for people,” Sisisky added.

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The Federation has also facilitated $702,775 in donor-advised fund grant requests to organizations providing support during the Ukraine crisis, including JDC, HIAS, IsraAid, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the International Rescue Committee and others.

As for the Jews among the refugees — approximately 6,000 so far, the Washington Post reported Thursday based on recent information from JDC — some are flying to Israel, and others to the United States, after they cross the border out of Ukraine. Many others are resettling in other parts of Europe, particularly in Germany, where relatives moved after the fall of the Soviet Union, Stefan Oscar, executive director of JDC, said in a Tuesday morning Zoom briefing on the crisis in Ukraine, hosted by the Federation.

Others are staying in Ukraine, not by choice but because they are elderly, often frail and unable to make the exit journey safely. JDC is working with the Polish, German and Ukrainian governments to help close to 900 Holocaust survivors in Ukraine evacuate by train.

​​“It will literally save these people,” Oscar said.

In total there are 9,000 survivors who call Ukraine home, Oscar said. The youngest are in their early 80s.

The Holocaust is front of mind for many donors, some of whom write personal messages when making their donations to the Federation.

“There’s a sense of that kind of solidarity. Lots of touching notes about family history or in honor of people in their families who have perished in the Holocaust,” Sisisky related. “It’s a very emotional time for people, and we’re seeing that in the comments and what motivates them to give.”

Gemma, a 7-year-old Bay Area girl, was one of the earliest donors. She gave $9, the sum of savings from her allowance, Sisisky said. The largest single donation was $500,000 from the Alexander M. and June L. Maisin Foundation.

To see the impact of these donations, Sisisky and Arthur Slepian, the Federation’s board chair, along with a small delegation of other Federation CEOs and board chairs, are flying to Poland next week to spend four days volunteering and offering support to refugees at the border with Ukraine.

“The real purpose of being there is to bear witness,” Sisisky said, “and to do that on behalf of our Jewish community here, to show a sense of solidarity.”

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Emma Goss.(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.