Jewish Agency Sends Young Israelis to Assist Hurricane Victims

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In the Wake of Hurricane Sandy, Many Elderly with No Elevator Service; Can’t Climb Stairs; Families with Children Living in Shelters

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“The Jewish people are there for each other in times of need. This is true whether a disaster occurs in Israel or here in the United States—it’s a two-way partnership

A delegation of 15 Russian-speaking Israeli young adults, recruited by The Jewish Agency for Israel, will be arriving in New York on Thursday morning to assist elderly Russian speakers and families whose homes and community centers have been destroyed or severely damaged.

More than 800,000 Russian immigrants live in the United States, including a large number in New York’s five boroughs. Many of these New Yorkers speak little English and have been stranded on the upper floors of high rises that dot the shores of Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Far Rockaway, Staten Island and Belle Harbor. For senior citizens, still without elevator service, it has been extremely hard to climb the endless flights of darkened stairs in their buildings. As a result, they have been hard pressed to replenish their food stocks, refill their medical prescriptions, and access other basic living necessities. Even finding comfort in the company of fellow community members has been a logistical challenge.

In addition to seniors in high-rises, many hundreds of Russian-speaking families in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island are currently living in shelters after Sandy’s violent winds and heavy flooding rendered their homes temporarily or permanently uninhabitable.

The Israeli volunteers are from families that immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union. Half the group are “Shinshinim”, members of an elite cadre of 18-year-olds who deferred their military service for one year to perform community service throughout the Jewish world. The other half are Israeli Scouts and former counselors at Jewish summer camps operated by The Jewish Agency in the former Soviet Union. The group will be escorted by an Israeli Scout leader and a Jewish Agency staffer.

“The Jewish people are there for each other in times of need,” said Misha Galperin, The Jewish Agency’s chief executive officer of international development. “This is true whether a disaster occurs in Israel or here in the United States—it’s a two-way partnership.”

Members of the delegation will integrate into the UJA Federation of New York’s ongoing relief efforts. In addition to delivering hot meals and essential supplies as well as paying social visits to seniors stranded in their apartments, the volunteers will conduct needs assessments; clean up damaged homes, schools, synagogues and community centers; and work with local community councils to sort through and distribute donated items.

According to Roman Polonsky, The Jewish Agency’s unit director of Russian-Speaking Jews—which recruited the volunteers—there was immediate and tremendous interest among Russian-speaking youngsters in Israel to join the delegation and help their peer communities in the U.S. Within hours of posting the opportunity, Polonsky’s department was inundated with applications and had to close the list.

“These young people represent a new generation of Russian-speaking Jews who want to be part of the global Jewish family,” Polonsky said. “They are oriented toward community service, a perfect path to connect with their inner Jewish spark and act in solidarity with Jews around the world.

“A thriving Jewish future depends on the active participation and leadership of the millions of Russian-speaking Jews in Israel and the world. Hurricane Sandy has brought out the best in these young citizens of the Jewish world.”

About The Jewish Agency for Israel
Investing in a vibrant Jewish future, The Jewish Agency for Israel continues to address the greatest challenges of our People in every generation. We connect the global Jewish family, bringing Jews to Israel- and Israel to Jews. We build a better society in Israel- and beyond- energizing young Israelis and their worldwide peers to rediscover a collective sense of Jewish purpose. At the same time, The Jewish Agency continues to be the Jewish world’s first responder, prepared to rescue and bring Jews home to Israel from countries where they live at-risk. More information can be obtained at

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Joshua Berkman
Jewish Agency for Israel
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