Rabbi Benjamin Blau, president of the Rabbinical Council of America and spiritual leader of the Green Road Synagogue in Beachwood, is on a mission to Poland with council colleagues to better understand the needs of Ukrainian refugees and Polish relief efforts.
Blau said the national council was due to hold a convention and the members decided to switch to a four-day mission instead. He leaves on May 15 and arrives in Poland on May 16 and will return on May 19.
The Rabbinical Council of America is a Modern Orthodox group made up of 1,000 rabbis, Blau said. A total of about 25 people are traveling to Poland, including rabbis, spouses and a 13-year-old son of a rabbi who, after the mission in Poland, will become a bar mitzvah in Israel.
“The idea is really twofold,” Blau told the Cleveland Jewish News on May 12. “First and foremost, to support Ukrainian refugees…especially Jewish people who have been resettled at this time. I don’t know what will happen to them after all. But they definitely need all the support we can (provide). »
Additionally, he said that rabbis on mission hope to “find out what the needs are. Then we can come back to the United States and give first-hand accounts of what needs to happen moving forward.
Blau noted that the news cycle has moved away from the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis amid the Russian invasion in recent weeks, but the needs are ongoing and critical among the refugees.
The council decided to bring in cash as a convenient way to provide medical supplies and other essentials. Blau said he sent a note to his Green Road congregation asking if they would partner with him and support the trip.
In response, on May 12, members of the congregation baked and sold challah, with proceeds going to help refugees. Blau said he would have a check representing both the individual donations, collected in just three days, and the proceeds from baking the challah. A total of $1,750 was raised.
Blau said the program for the trip was put together by Rabbi Michael Schudrich, chief rabbi of Poland, an American citizen and a member of the Rabbinical Council of America. Rabbi Arie Folger of Vienna, vice chairman of the council, worked with Schudrich to develop the route, Blau said.
At Schudrich’s request for religious items, Blau said he planned to purchase 10 mezuzot from the local sofer, Rabbi Yosef Heinemann, for delivery to Poland.
While in Poland, the group will also autograph two Sefer Torah scrolls and celebrate Lag b’Omer with Jews in Krakow. Their mission was to provide kosher hot dogs for the celebration.
“Our colleague from Vienna … said it was easier to bring him from Vienna to Poland than from Chicago,” Blau said.
In addition to Krakow, Warsaw and Lublin, the group will travel to Rzeszow and Medyka, on the border with Ukraine, Blau said.
“I’m proud to do something on behalf of Ukrainian Jews and I’m doing it in conjunction with my shul,” Blau said. “I think it’s really important. The rabbi is the show’s agent, and I’m happy to do that in that regard.