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March 11, 2022 11:13 am
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Yeshiva University Students Set to Embark on Aid Mission to Help Ukrainian Refugees

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Yeshiva University. Photo: Wiki Commons

New York’s Yeshiva University is sending a group of undergraduate students to Vienna, Austria, next week to participate in a Ukrainian humanitarian relief mission, the campus newspaper reported.

The delegation of roughly 18 students will embark on their trip on Sunday night and return March 20, according to The Commentator. The students will be led by the school’s Vice Provost of Values and Leadership and Sacks-Herenstein Center Director Erica Brown and Mashgiach Ruchani Rabbi Josh Blass. While in Vienna, the group will aid the Jewish community’s refugee efforts by helping to sort donations, deliver supplies, complete needed paperwork and other tasks, said Brown, who has participated in past humanitarian missions to Cuba, Ethiopia, Moscow, Kyiv and Belarus.

Rabbi Weisberg emailed students about the opportunity to participate early Wednesday morning, and by late afternoon, 88 students had already applied for the trip, Rabbi Blass said.

YU student Yoni Mayer said, “I’ve been wanting to do something tangible to aid the Ukrainians, but anything in America felt too distant for me. This would be direct support to the refugees.”

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Brown told The Commentator that the idea for the trip stemmed from a phone call he received on Sunday night from YU President Ari Berman, who asked how the school could respond to the “increasingly dire situation” in Europe as a result of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. “When he said we need to encourage student activism, I suggested the trip and he was immediately supportive. We’re calling it Operation Torat Chesed, a way to live our values in real time,” Brown said, referring to YU’s five Core Torah Values.

“Over the next 24 hours, we worked on this virtually non-stop, figuring out what community/country needs help in addressing refugees, what was safe and also where students could access kosher food and a Jewish infrastructure for Purim,” Brown explained.

Vienna was chosen as their destination because it is close enough to the war zone to help Ukrainian refugees without the risk of endangering YU students, she added.

Jewish communities throughout Europe have joined in efforts to assist refugees fleeing Ukraine, whose numbers have grown to over 2 million people since Russia’s invasion, according to the United Nations.

In Vienna, the Jewish communal association is already providing welcome packages for refugees, which include cash, a charged SIM card, sweets for children and resources for support options in the city.

Speaking to The Commentator, Rabbi Blass explained, “In the same way that we wanted others to be concerned about our plight during the Holocaust because of the idea of the brotherhood of man, then of course we take full part in this. If that’s the case, then how could I not be involved?”

The cost for students to participate is $500 with limited scholarships also available. Students will eat two meals a day with the refugees, who are staying at two Jewish-owned hotels, and will also join the local community in celebrating Purim, which begins the eve of March 17. A grant provided by the Sacks-Herenstein Center, the Esther and Richard Joel Service Missions Scholarship Fund and the Office of Student Life will finance the trip.

“To paraphrase from the Megillah, maybe we are here, alive at this very moment, to do this very thing,” Brown said. “That’s leadership.”

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