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Krakow community leader visits Las Vegas to talk Ukraine relief efforts

Poland Russia Ukraine War
AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu
People at a makeshift camp wait to board a train heading for Krakow, after fleeing from Ukraine, at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland, Thursday, March 10, 2022.

Earlier this year, we talked with Rabbi Sanford Akselrad of Temper N’er Tamid in Henderson. He and rabbis from around the world flew to Poland to provide material and spiritual comfort to Ukrainian refugees. An estimated 150,000 refugees have fled to Poland for their safety.

When he was there, he met with the leaders of Krakow, Poland’s Jewish Community Center. One of those leaders was Jonathan Orenstein.

Orenstein grew up in New York, and now lives in Krakow. Akselrad invited him to Las Vegas to share what he knows about the war and the refugees with State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann.

“We understood that when the war started on February 24 last year that there would be a lot of refugees, people would flee Ukraine and a lot would come to us. And as you said, millions have passed through Poland. There are still a couple million there and in Krakow, right now you feel the refugee presence,” Orenstein described.

He said there are 100,000 refugees, and almost all of them are women and children who have been victims of war violence. Many of them have been separated from their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers who are back in Ukraine.

“The Polish people have done a remarkable job of welcoming Ukrainians,” he said. They’ve rented hotel rooms, apartments and even found an “underused palace” outside of the city that’s housing about 80 Ukrainians.

“They found a very humanitarian way to welcome the Ukrainians to make sure that they kept their dignity and that they were protected and safe,” Akselrad added.

Orenstein said the war hasn’t changed his views of Vladamir Putin, but it has reinforced his “opinion of the fundamental generosity and goodness of human beings.”

A few months after the Russian invasion, Orenstein wrote in the Jerusalem Post about a Krakow resident who had survived the Holocaust as a child. Her parents were murdered.

At the JCC, there is a free shop of diapers and related supplies for women and children.

“And [the Krakow resident] just stood up and pointed across the hall. And she made the point that that was me. And by extension, this was us,” he said. “This was the story of the Jewish people 80 years ago, during the Holocaust. And for the most part, the Jewish people during the Holocaust in Europe are not helped in great numbers. She was, but that's the exception. And I think there's a particular mindfulness of the difficult history of the Jews in that part of the world, which makes us even more sensitive and more eager to prevent happening to others, essentially, what happened to us?”

Hear the full interview above.

Guests: Jonathan Orenstein, CEO, Jewish Community Center in Krakow, Poland; Rabbi Sanford Akselrad, Temple N’er Tamid

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Dave Berns, now a producer for State of Nevada, recently returned to KNPR after having previously worked for the station from 2005 to 2009.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the audience engagement specialist for Nevada Public Radio. She curates and creates content for, our weekly newsletter and social media for Nevada Public Radio and Desert Companion.
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