Colel Chabad, the oldest continuously operating charity in Israel, has been working around the clock to help the refugees coming to Israel from Ukraine.
“Colel Chabad has been investing over 234 years since 1788 and helping the needy in Israel. More recently, we've developed a network of food cards accepted in over 2,000 stores throughout the country and we are adapting them now for the needs of the refugees,” says Menachem Traxler, Director of Volunteering for Colel Chabad. “When they land they need to be able to buy food. We hand them a card, they can go into almost any supermarket wherever they're going to be staying and buy food. Food is a basic necessity and we're here to provide that.”
Traxler explains that in an emergency situation such as what is going on today with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Colel Chabad is fortunate to have a massive network of Chabad emissaries throughout the world, including in Ukraine.
“Every single time we reach out for assistance to supporters they ask how do you know who needs. We are blessed to have a network of emissaries throughout the world and all these emissaries in Ukraine know that they're sending someone here – those that came here identify all the community members that have come to Israel and need assistance. They introduce us to them, we get their information through the network of the Chabad emissaries and make sure they have whatever they need.”
The needs of the refugees don’t stop at food, they also need clothing. In response, they have expanded their food cards for the refugees.
“We've opened them up to go to clothing stores as well and we've actually just expanded this past week also to help find housing,” he explains. “We put a few ads out letting people know if they have extra vacation homes please let us know so we can help place people, and over 25 families we've already had in two days able to find them housing through at least until after Pesach.”
They have been helping new arrivals from the former Soviet Union for the last three decades so they already have infrastructure in place that has helped tremendously in dealing with the sudden needs of an influx of Ukrainian refugees.
“We've over the past 30 years had an absorption office support for those making Aliyah, specifically from the former Soviet Union, and the social workers were put on call and have been helping immediately especially with the language. They know the needs and they're already helping, being in touch, finding people help just to navigate the local Israeli bureaucratic processes along with a translation between us and them to help get them the food cards.”
Traxler went on to say that while some refugees are finding relatives to stay with, they are still in need of longterm housing.
“People are finding family – distant relatives – they're letting them stay for a week, two weeks. But houses in Israel are small, not everybody could handle it for the long term, and so it needs a lot of translations and getting involved and helping them settle,” he says. “We hope the government's going to step up and fulfill the responsibility of finding proper housing and employment but until they do we're here and making sure everybody has what they need.”