This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with Jewish teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.
(JTA) — On a Sunday afternoon in February, a group of teens met for the first time at the JCC Mid-Westchester in Scarsdale, New York to make friendship bracelets and connections. Teens and tweens huddled together over a plastic folding table, some laughing and others deeply focused on beading plastic and elastic friendship bracelets.
These girls — six from New York’s Westchester County and eight Ukrainian refugees — gathered as part of the Westchester Jewish Coalition for Immigration. Partly organized by teen leaders, sophomores Jackie Kershner and Kate Douglass, the group gathered to create a safe space for the refugees and ease their struggles in acclimating to a new environment.
“It’s important to try and let these kids have as normal a life as possible and to let us have an influence on their life,” said Kershner, who has Russian and Ukrainian backgrounds and has recently started learning Russian. Outside of co-leading this group she tutors an Ukrainian girl from Ternopil, Ukraine through ENGin, a program that matches native English speakers with Ukrainian students who want to learn English.
Over the past year 271,000 Ukrainian refugees have fled to the United States with about 14,000 relocating in New York. The refugee organization HIAS reports that close to 200 refugees have resettled in Westchester County. More than half of them arrived in six months beginning in September 2021. With $21 million being invested by the federal government to support Ukrainian refugees in New York, a portion of this is being used by Jewish nonprofits that are incorporating Jewish American teens into their efforts to ease the transition for refugees.
Kershner’s co-leader, Douglass, empathizes with the recently displaced teens and tweens. “When I think of moving to a new school that can be so anxiety producing, so for what they are going through I can imagine that they just need an extra friend,” she said.
The experience is welcomed by Ukrainian teens. Valentyna Zabialo, who fled the country recently, is grateful for the opportunity.
“Finally I can speak with somebody else about our similar stories about school and friends, how I’ve fled to America, how I have moved countries, ” agreed Renata Uhlinsky, who fled from Odessa last July.
Holly Fink, the CEO of Westchester Jewish Coalition for Immigration, sees the firsthand benefits from implementing bonding programs that teens and tweens like Uhlinsky engage in. “I know from my work from Ukrainians that everyone who fled from the war has experienced an immense amount of trauma, so I have created programs like this one to help them bond with others,” she said. “They are meeting teens who I see as the future of immigration work.”
It’s important for teens to be part of the process, said Caroline Wolinsky, the volunteer coordinator at HIAS. The refugee assistance organization began as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1902. “Teens bring not just energy but a knowledge of how the world works now, how to bring people together, and how to think creatively about problems,” said Wolinksy.
In the past year she has engaged with about 50 active teen volunteers in places ranging from El Paso, Texas to Washington D.C. They mostly engage in more traditional hands-on work such as assembling “dignity kits” to provide refugees with essential hygiene products, but bring their own skills to refugee work.
“A lot of modern organizing and change-making happens online and on social media and so I think using the tools which now have become a really intuitive part of how young people have grown up,” said Wolinsky. “It’s so hugely important to be able to use word processing documents and Google drive and things like that that may not come as naturally to older people, but do come very naturally to teens and really make a huge difference.”
Lyla Souccar, 16, feels a connection to refugee work through her family’s history: Her grandfather fled Egypt in the 1940s because of Jewish persecution and relocated to Brazil. From his stories, she took an interest in aiding those in similar situations.
“Jews are refugees in so many places because we are constantly getting hate, and in the Holocaust there were so many refugees after that [who] needed to move to so many different places,” said Soucar.
Souccar volunteers with Hearts and Homes, a New York nonprofit service organization that helps Afghan refugees resettle in partnership with HIAS. In 2021, 2.4 million Afghan refugees were registered worldwide — 41% women and 40% children. New York State has 7,500 Afghan refugees.
Through Hearts and Homes, Souccar created a club with her friend Keren Jacobowitz at The Leffell School, a Jewish day school in Westchester. The club fundraises, runs toiletry drives and spreads awareness about the plight of Afghan refugees. Later this school year, she has planned for an adult Afghan refugee to speak to the school. Beyond the classroom, she started working with two families through the organization as an intern this past summer, and has continued the work by helping the kids in those families with English and math homework.
“They were a little scared to get close to people, I remember the kids used to hide a little bit the first few weeks of me coming in, but now when I come in they run to the door,” Souccar said. “I definitely feel more connected to them, I’ve shared meals with them, I’ve watched TV with them, I just feel a lot more part of their life.”
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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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