BJF’s Florina Newcomb: Update Stories Hit Home

    As Personal As It Gets
    by Florina Newcomb, Programs and Special Projects Coordinator

    One of the most favorite parts of my job at the Birmingham Jewish Federation is staffing the Israel-World Jewry Bureau (IWJB).  IWJB is the BJF’s overseas allocations process.  Basically, Jewish non-profit organizations from overseas apply for funding for various projects/services and the committee has the hard task of vetting each organization and deciding which ones get the funding.

    When getting reports from each organization, I always have a general idea of how we are helping those in need. Numbers, charts, and pictures show how many people we are helping and recently videos of personal accounts show this as well. And yet, it doesn’t always seem personal.

    What has really opened my eyes though are two recent Update reports on how our funding is being used to help Jews around the world and more specifically Jews in the Former Soviet Union. This always gets my attention since I was born in Moldova and am always interested in how the Jewish people in that part of the world are faring.  My colleague, Samantha Dubrinsky, was part of a recent Jewish Federations of North America trip to Ukraine and Israel. Samantha wrote stories for Update about her experiences and about the people she met.   These people have been helped by BJF funding through agencies such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and The Jewish Agency.

    There was a young woman and her daughter who had to flee the conflict areas in Ukraine a couple of years ago, barely having a minute to decide what they could carry with them as they ran for safety.  This woman lost her home and all of her possessions and needed extensive help to rebuild her life.  There was a 96 year old woman in Ukraine who welcomed Samantha and other JFNA trip participants into her home.

    A Holocaust survivor, this woman said that recently JDC became a lifeline for her when she was hurt and needed medical attention.  There was a woman named Olga, from Ukraine, who came to Israel through The Jewish Agency and is making a better life for herself as a waitress in Tel Aviv.  All of these women and their struggles became real for me as Samantha told their stories.

    And the stories continued for me last week.  Samantha and I were the Local Delegation Heads for the JCC Maccabi Games that our Jewish community recently hosted.  As Local Delegation Heads, we were responsible for all 15 Team Birmingham coaches and 74 Team Birmingham Athletes.  Some of the athletes making up Team Birmingham came from our sister cities –Rosh Ha’Ayin, Israel and Vinnytsia, Ukraine.   Being able to speak Russian, I was very close to the Ukrainian athletes and chaperones all week.  Getting to know them and learn about their lives in Ukraine was a wonderful experience.  One of the chaperones works for the JDC-funded Chesed center in their town.  She let me know how wonderful it was for Jewish children in the region to receive help to go to Jewish schools and Jewish summer camps.  Through our work, we are helping Jewish life thrive in Ukraine.

    These stories just reaffirm that thanks to funding from the BJF’s Israel-World Jewry Bureau, Jews around the world are getting the help that they need and all of us in Birmingham are helping make that happen! These are just some of the people that your annual campaign contributions are helping in a tremendous way. Literally, because of our Jewish community here in Birmingham, people’s lives around the world are being changed for the better.

    And for me, it could not get more personal than that!

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