Surviving Their Second War in As Many Years; Ukrainian Olim Find Support and Community with OU Israel

A year and a half ago, Sveta managed to escape the war in Ukraine and arrived in Israel with her husband and their two children. They arrived filled with fear from Ukraine – but also full of hope for a new life in Israel and the stability it could bring. I met them the day after they arrived and greeted them with basic necessities, candy for the children, and a big hug. Since their arrival, they have been a big part of our OU Israel community of Olim from Ukraine. They had a Hanukat Habayit and put up a mezuzah, have been learning Hebrew in ulpan, and participate in the youth leadership group, activities for the holidays and for women, and more. We found them a job, and they were excited about their new life in Israel, having found the stability they yearned for upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport. 

On October 7th, Sveta found herself paralyzed with fear. Having thought she left behind the horrors of war for a life of peace, she was once again thrown into upheaval as her daily life was brought to a standstill. Terrified, she did not even leave her house for several months. She was laid off from her job, and, in a late-night call, she asked me, “How could Israel, the country for us Jewish people, where I escaped for safety, be another threat to my life?” Sveta struggled with fear, depression, and uncertainty about the future. To help her, we gave her the responsibility of working with the children in our community program and preparing a play for Tu B’Shvat. Her Tu B’Shvat play was a success! We also provided her family with temporary financial assistance to calm her financial worries.  

Sveta received enormous encouragement, and she has since regained her sense of purpose. She is now working on our Purim show. Slowly, Sveta – along with our entire community of olim – is starting to smile again. 

Many Olim like Sveta are working to adjust and trying to navigate the current reality in Israel. I’m with our OU Israel team operating in the North, and it is extremely tense, with bombings happening throughout most days. While the war has not officially started here, the uncertainty and fear of what may come next loom over us. The unity and resilience of our community are a light that shines through the darkness and helps me keep going. I work closely with the Olim, and I have witnessed the incredible strength and courage of those who have left their homes to start anew in Israel.  

Thousands of recent immigrants left Israel due to the difficult circumstances of the war, but the majority of Olim served by OU Israel have chosen to stay, emphasizing the strength and support they feel within the community we have worked hard to establish for them. Their determination to stay and build a new life amidst the war is truly inspiring.   

We have a women’s discussion group that we originally held on Zoom, as people were too scared to leave their houses to meet. When we held our first in-person meeting, I chose the topic of light: how important it is to find light within us when our surroundings and the world we live in are filled with darkness. We went around and everyone shared their experiences dealing with darkness and what their light is that gives them strength. This night was meant to provide hope and encouragement to those struggling.  Olga, one of our Olim, approached me at the end of the activity. Olga had been filled with fear and uncertainty. When Olga moved with her family from Ukraine, they did not have a chance to integrate with our community because the war broke out right away. After the activity, Olga gave me a big hug as she cried and thanked me for helping her see how much light there is and how privileged she is to be a part of this community, country, and nation. Through our support, she has found strength in being part of a community that uplifts and empowers each other.  

As we prepare for Purim and Passover, we strive to learn about the holidays together, give hugs, and find moments of joy amidst the chaos. Our young leadership group has taken the initiative to help those in need by distributing emergency kits, food baskets, Tehilim books, and Challah and by organizing activities to bring joy and relief to the community. Recently, they went to a workshop to learn how to create shapes from balloons so that they can give them out and spread happiness. These efforts were designed to support those in need and empower our young leaders to cope with the war’s trauma.  

One of the teens expressed to me that, “We understand that if we don’t do good for others, our situation will only worsen.” I’ve seen this attitude strengthen their spirit and their ability to deal with the trauma of the war themselves. 

Unfortunately, the funding we received at the onset of the war in Ukraine, when people gave so generously, has run out, leading us to seek additional sources of funding to continue supporting those in need in this, their second war in so many years, and increase aid as necessary.   

As Golda Meir once said, “We Jews have a secret weapon in our struggle, we have no place to go.” Together, we stand strong, and the unity and resilience of our community continues to give me hope for a brighter future. In a country where every day brings new threats and fears, the solidarity and hope that we share with one another are the true pillars of strength. Together, we are an unbreakable force, and we are not alone. We will emerge stronger than ever before. 

– Koranit Lanksner, OU Israel Department Head 

This is just a flavor of the far-reaching work done by OU Israel supporting Olim and at-risk teens throughout Israel. To support Ukrainian Olim struggling through their second war in two years, you can make a gift at and type “Ukraine” in the dedication line or contact Paul Kaplan at or 212-613-8258. 

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.