Local Cantor Joins ‘Hineini Trip’ to Krakow

Local Cantor Joins ‘Hineini Trip’ to Krakow

Cantor Nancy Kassel of Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell and 25 other Reform clergy from around the U.S. and Israel embarked on a four-day trip to Poland.

Randi S. and Cantor Nancy Kessel looked at the donations Randi brought in.
Randi S. and Cantor Nancy Kessel looked at the donations Randi brought in.

On April 10, Cantor Nancy Kassel of Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell and 25 other Reform clergy from around the U.S. and Israel embarked on a four day “Hineini Trip” to Kraków, Poland.

They offered financial, material and spiritual assistance to Ukrainian refugees. Solidarity is the mission at hand, as the Jewish community adds to their efforts to bring help to the refugees in as many ways as possible.

The Hineini Trip was created by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, World Union for Progressive Judaism and Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism in conjunction with the Jewish Community Centre of Kraków and the executive director, Jonathan Orenstein. The JCC of Kraków operates on the Ukrainian side of the Ukraine-Poland border and inside Ukraine. A travel agency associated with the Reform movement, J2 Adventures organized much of the trip.

Cantor Nancy Kassel with 9 bags of donations ready to go.

Participants collected at least $500,000 in donations to be directed to the extensive activities of the Kraków JCC. They brought over 3,000 lbs. of requested medicine and personal supplies. While in Kraków, the rabbis and cantors offered support under Orenstein’s direction. Kassel collected $12,000 from members of Temple Beth Tikvah and brought eight duffel bags of clothing and other materials to the JCC.

Rabbis from Poland and Russia also participated in this effort. Most of the clergy planned to leave Kraków on the morning of April 14 to be back in time for Passover. They will bring back stories from refugees and other volunteers as well as their own experiences.

When interviewed by the AJT, Kassel stated that she found out about the trip from Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, of Temple Israel in West Palm Beach, Fla. In a statement released by Salkin, he recounts, “My brother asked me: ‘In ten years, when your grandchildren ask you what you did during the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time — the situation in Ukraine — how will you answer them?’ That was it, I knew that I couldn’t just write articles and give sermons. It had to be more than that.”

That is how the trip got started. “Hineini” is the Hebrew word for “I am here,” and that was the kind of personal presence and involvement that Salkin craved. He decided to create an emergency trip for Reform clergy to help refugees.

Rabbi Don Goor and Guy Millo, the creators of J2 Adventures, in turn, reached out to Ornstein. Kraków has become inundated by refugees from Ukraine.

Kraków Jewish Community Centre in Poland.

“It is an amazing group of colleagues,” Salkin said in advance of the trip. “We have clergy from Pennsylvania, Georgia, Oregon, New Jersey, Maryland, California, Ohio. And not just Americans. We have rabbis from Russia, Poland and Israel as well.”

“We hope to go to the Poland-Ukraine border. We hope to work with orphans who have just arrived in Poland. More than anything else, though, we want to bear witness to what is happening. To let our communities know what is happening. To be part of this story and to be part of history,” said Salkin.

Kraków JCC volunteers.

Kassel told the AJT that a woman posted on Jewish Moms of Atlanta via her Facebook page, that she had been looking for someone going to Kraków because she had assembled 100 small bags to distribute to people there. Each bag has a small fleece blanket, small toys for kids, among other things. Kassel was able to take 40 of the small bags in her remaining luggage space. She said, “yes, there is evil in the world, but thank God, there is a lot of goodness as well.”

Salkin closed his statement with, “Yes, we all have stuff to do to prepare for Passover, which starts the day after the trip is over. But this trip is its own form of Passover preparation. On Passover, we speak of the horrors of the ancient Egyptian regime, and the maniacal nature of Pharaoh. We are facing a modern Pharaoh — Putin — and we are strengthening the hands of a modern Moses — Zelensky. That is what it means to be there.”

The JCC of Kraków is a key provider of services, a strategic partner, and a convener, having already helped directly and via our partners many thousands of Ukrainians over the last four weeks.

From Jonathan Orenstein of the Kraków Jewish Community Centre.

Orenstein, of the Kraków Jewish Community Centre, recently released this statement and welcomes assistance from additional communities that would like to get involved:
• Our JCC continues to function 7 days a week, 14 hours a day as a collection and distribution point for food, medicine, hygienic supplies, toys, and clothing. Between 300 and 500 Ukrainians a day come in to take whatever supplies they need and are met by our Ukrainian speakers who welcome them and offer assistance. So far 8,500 Ukrainians have received over 20 tons of necessary supplies so far in our building. We have also begun offering on site meals and 200 free meals a day are served in our building.
• We are sending truckloads of supplies to other refugee centers in Krakow, to the border, and to numerous points, including hospitals inside Ukraine.
• We are currently directly housing and feeding ~220 Ukrainians, Jews and non-Jews, in hotel rooms and apartments in Kraków we have secured for that purpose. We call and visit them regularly and help them with their daily needs including cash.
• We have outfitted and opened a mother and child safe space with a local partner that provides day care for 25 young children, and Polish and English classes, psychological counseling, and job training for their mothers in a warm, cozy environment.
• We have partnered with four local NGOs to run and equip one of the central refugee hubs for Ukrainians coming to Kraków. Staffed by Ukrainian speakers, it also has on site housing for 100 refugees, and we are providing food as well as laundry services for all the residents.
• We are working with and financially supporting a local partner that brings supplies to the border and into Lviv for distribution across Ukraine and brings people out to Poland. Over 3,000 people have escaped Ukraine this way since the war began. We have also partnered with them on the Ukrainian side of the Korczowa border crossing to provide Ukrainians waiting to enter Poland with warm food, medical care and sanitary supplies.
• We provide transport for Ukrainians who are traveling onward via Poland to other countries in Europe and Israel by purchasing plane and train tickets. So far, we have helped transport 200+ Ukrainians.
• We have hired 11 new full time staff members to increase our capacity, including four Ukrainian refugees.
• We are part of the Jewish crisis response network set up and based in Warsaw and are coordinating with local Polish Jewish organizations to provide services and share information.
• We have partnered with a local university and an Israeli NGO to train 60 local psychologists to deal with refugee trauma.
• We have partnered with the Polish Scouts to establish a presence at the Kraków Central Train Station where we have purchased 50 beds and are providing supplies to refugees.
• We have purchased vital medical supplies in Poland and delivered them into Ukraine to the hospital near the Yavoriv Military Base that was bombed by Russia on March 13.
• We are working to provide food to 280 elderly Ukrainian Jews in smaller towns in the Kyiv and Cherkasy regions of Ukraine.

For more information on how you can get involved contact Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin at rabbisalkin@temple-israel.com, or 404-314-9136. You may also contact Cantor Nancy Kessel at 770-642-0434.

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