NJ rabbi returns from humanitarian mission at Ukrainian border

It was a heart-wrenching three-day trip for Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, Bergen County, New Jersey.

"I saw like the worst you can imagine," Kirshner said. "And we were buoyed by the best in humanity."

He just led an 11-person team — all from local Jewish groups — on a humanitarian mission to the Poland-Ukraine border. He described just some of the scenes he witnessed. 

"When we got to one of the border crossings, there was a line two days long — two days by car to get across the border from the Ukraine," Kirshner said. "One of the people we met stood in line for 47 hours and didn't eat for 60 hours to get her and her child across the border."

Kirshner and his group collected donations from their communities, which resulted in more than 500 huge duffel bags full of about 30,000 pounds of supplies. 

Dorothy Brie, 10, of Cresskill, spent hours organizing toothpaste, toothbrushes, and other dental care right before the mission. 

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"I hope the people of Ukraine know not to give up and to keep on fighting," Brie said. 

On the ground in Europe, Kirshner and his team worked hand-in-hand with the JCC Krakow, which had set up a storefront of sorts at the border — with clothing, medicine, food, and other supplies — for anyone in need. 

Native New Yorker Jonathan Ornstein heads the JCC there and told us he was humbled by the New Jersey group's visit. He said the need to help refugees is still strong and probably will be for a long time to come. 

"We're housing 220 people in hotel rooms and apartments," Ornstein said. "We have a collection and distribution center in our building, where about 500 people a day come to take diapers, food, whatever they need."

The rabbi and his team could only bring over 129 duffels and they're grateful to the airline Lufthansa for the free or reduced rates for their checked bags. 

But about 380 duffels are still waiting in New Jersey as Kirshner works to plan out another mission in the near future.

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