A line of people stand near the Ukraine border
Thousands of Ukrainians wait to enter the checkpoint at the Ukraine-Moldova border in Palanca, March 5, 2022. (Photo/JTA-Jacob Judah)

Hebrew Free Loan offers cash assistance to Bay Area residents with family in Ukraine

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Greg Keselman is worried about his wife’s family outside Kyiv. Her brother, his wife and kids spend most of their time huddled in shelters to escape the shelling. There’s not much that Keselman, who grew up in Ukraine and now lives in Pleasant Hill, can do other than stay in touch.

“They’re alive,” he said. “This is the most important. They have enough food and water, at least for now.”

Although he can’t get them out, he can help them through this traumatic time. Keselman has just been approved for a loan from Hebrew Free Loan, which recently set up a program for this very purpose. HFL will provide up to $20,000 to qualified applicants who want to help friends and family in Ukraine, and Keselman is using that money to directly support his in-laws.

“We try to do anything we can, but I don’t know how much we can help more,” he said.

Cindy Rogoway
Cindy Rogoway

Hebrew Free Loan executive director Cindy Rogoway said the San Francisco-based organization considered different ways it could support Ukrainians.

“It’s fair to say we, like everyone else here, feel like our hands are tied,” Rogoway said. “What can we do?”

The answer was to do what Hebrew Free Loan does best: Give out interest-free loans to Jewish residents of Northern California or employees of Jewish organizations. The money can be used for food, housing, transportation or other humanitarian needs related to the crisis in Ukraine.

Keselman, who has been in the U.S. since 1994, has been trying to persuade his sister-in-law and kids to flee Ukraine — his brother-in-law is of fighting age and has to stay, and a nephew is already in the army. But he said they’re scared to make the dangerous journey to the border.

He’d like to bring the family to the Bay Area, if the U.S. opens up a channel for refugees as it did for Jews leaving the Soviet Union starting with the Cold War.

In the meantime, Keselman said he is grateful for the support HFL is providing. He’s also been making his own donations to support aid efforts, as well as urging people to get behind the movement calling for NATO to create a no-fly zone over his beleaguered country —  “to sign all kinds of petitions and convince our government to close the sky over Ukraine,” he said — something Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for repeatedly.

NATO has been reluctant to take this action, as enforcing it would most likely lead to actual combat with Russia, something Europe and the U.S. hope to avoid.

Other than advocating for his country and supporting his in-laws stuck near Kyiv, Keselman said there is little he can do to help.

“This is the most difficult part,” Keselman said. “Because you cannot actually do anything.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.