(JTA) — Four and a half feet of snow had just fallen on East Aurora, New York, but Kim Kaiser and her fellow volunteers through Jewish Family Services of Western New York weren’t willing to compromise on their Thanksgiving plans.
Those plans involved joining a community Thanksgiving feast on Tuesday night, two days before the holiday, at the Ukrainian American Civic Center in nearby Buffalo, along with the Ukrainian family of six that the volunteers had been supporting since their arrival to the United States at the end of the summer.
The event, which was sponsored by the Buffalo branch of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, was open to all new Ukrainian arrivals, their sponsors and their supporters. A buffet of traditional Thanksgiving foods was on offer, along with musical accompaniment by a Ukrainian singer and pianist.
For Kaiser, the evening was a can’t-miss milestone in her journey supporting recent immigrants who have come to the United States under duress. Last year, she began volunteering through Jewish Family Services to set up housing for Afghan, Congolese and Burmese refugees new to Buffalo, which has a very large refugee population.
“And then I heard of a family in our town that was going to be sponsoring a family from Ukraine,” Kaiser told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “My husband and I knew that we needed, that we wanted to do this.”
In joining the efforts to support refugees, Kaiser participated in an age-old Jewish tradition. The importance of welcoming strangers is so deeply rooted in Jewish tradition and experience that immigration issues have long enjoyed a bipartisan consensus in American Jewish communities even amid deep polarization on other topics. Many cities have social services agencies that began to support Jewish immigrants and now work with new arrivals of all backgrounds, often conscripting Jewish volunteers as the backbone of their work.
Over the last year, those networks have kicked into high gear as not just one but two significant waves of people unable to remain safely in their homes made their way to American shores: first Afghans last year after the U.S. military withdrawal from their country and then Ukrainians this year amid the war instigated by Russia there.
Now, as millions of Americans prepare for their Thanksgiving meals, Jewish volunteers are introducing Ukrainian and Afghan evacuees to Thanksgiving for the first time. Some are even setting aside their own reservations about the holiday to do so. (Thanksgiving’s cheery origin myth is seen by many as whitewashing the genocide of Native Americans that followed the arrival of Europeans in North America.)
In California, Gail Dratch and her husband Elliot have been volunteering through the Orange County Jewish Coalition for Refugees. They will celebrate the holiday on Thursday by inviting a family from Afghanistan into their home, where they’ll serve a halal turkey — in keeping with their Muslim guests’ religious requirements.
“For us, Thanksgiving has become just such a part of what we do,” Dratch told JTA. “And I know my family at least, we don’t think about the beginnings of Thanksgiving, which are really troubling. My daughters especially are very troubled by the original story. But clearly, this family is so thankful for having this opportunity to be in the United States.”
Both Kaiser and Dratch got support for their volunteer circles from their local Jewish federations, in Buffalo and Orange County. They were two of 15 local federations to get support from Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella group, to resettle nearly 2,000 Afghans through refugee welcome circles, according to Darcy Hirch, a spokesperson.
The Dratches have done far more than cook a special dinner. The Afghan family they are working with arrived on a Special Immigrant Visa, so the father was able to obtain a driver’s license quickly and found work almost immediately. But the mother had to learn to drive from scratch.
“She cried the first time I took her to a big parking lot just to drive around Angel Stadium,” Dratch said, referring to the stadium in Anaheim where the Los Angeles Angels play. “And when she got behind the wheel, she cried because she said it’s been a dream of hers to drive but she never thought she’d be able to, living in Afghanistan.”
The couple’s son, who is in preschool, is learning English very quickly, Dratch said.
“They’re just charming, lovely people,” she said. “It was their dream to come to the United States and raise their son here because they knew he would have far more opportunities here than in Afghanistan. And so we are thankful that this family has come into our lives because they’ve been such a gift to us.”
Dratch’s experience working with displaced people began in 2016 when she went to Greece to work with Syrian refugees.
“I think in the future people are going to look back and say, ‘Why wasn’t more done?’” she said. “And I don’t want to look back and think, ‘Why didn’t I do something?’”
In Buffalo, Kaiser’s volunteer circle takes turns running errands and sharing the duties of a host family for the parents and with four children with whom they have been working since September. Though the family has only been in the United States for a few months, Kaiser said she has noticed a big difference in the children, who she says were initially downcast and shy but are now “smiles all around.”
At the meal on Tuesday, which was set up for 200 people, Kaiser says she saw evacuees mingling with each other, delighting in speaking Ukrainian without relying on Google translate to communicate with each other, and exchanging addresses and telephone numbers with where they can be reached in the Buffalo area. The kids went back to the buffet table multiple times for dessert.
Said Kaiser, “You can tell that every time you do something for them that they are thankful that there’s somebody there to help them and that they can start feeling, finally, a little bit at ease.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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