BBYO Hungary and the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

March 29, 2022
Linda Verő Bán

Budapest, Hungary

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Considering the insane complexity and gravity of the current situation, addressing each and every aspect of this conflict and its implications with the due sophistication that is seen as necessary in a brief summary is nearly impossible. Therefore, the sole purpose of this short overview is to provide a dense insight into the current state of the crisis (as of the 27th of March), taking into consideration the context and environment in which BBYO Hungary also had to navigate its response. Throughout, we will attempt to highlight some of the unexpected factors and the lessons already learned, so that they may be able to inform other chapters and communities in formulating their responses.

As tensions in the region kept continuously rising since the beginning of 2022, the probability of war started moving the Hungarian Jewish Community, as a whole, towards preparing for the worst. Whilst probably no one expected an actual all out conflict, and it has caught most stakeholders by surprise, the fact that the local community’s Crisis Management organisation, the Sochnut (The Jewish Agency for Israel), the Israeli Embassy to Hungary, the local community security services, and the communities themselves all started to increasingly prepare has probably contributed to the absolutely astonishing response that we have seen thus far.

An additional, and rather surprising turn of events was the response by the Hungarian people. The amount of support and social initiatives that emerged (from volunteering to donations everything that people could think of), driven predominantly by average Hungarians just trying to help was unbelievable and most definitely unexpected. Almost instantly, people started offering accommodation, food, transport opportunities and so much more. And whilst the response could have been better coordinated, the genuine desire to just help and contribute did make a difference.

Consequently, BBYO Hungary’s contribution has been largely accelerated and supported by the local, much wider societal response. That said, another additional factor that enabled BBYO Hungary to make a slightly greater impact was its previous strictly apolitical approach to the affairs of the local Jewish community. This has positioned BBYO Hungary in a niche way that allowed for establishing a platform for more efficient cooperation by allowing all potential contributors and supporters to freely cooperate with each other throughout.

This was especially crucial in the first few days of the crisis, when there was still a lack of coordination when attempting to manage the sudden and huge influx of refugees. What we soon came to realise was that whilst there were insane amount of resources and support available for the refugees, people had no idea where and how to ensure that they arrive at the right place. As such, Linda, our BBYO Advisor from Hungary established a Facebook group inviting all parties from our network who were keen to contribute to the response, which has accelerated this coordination process greatly. Furthermore, Linda has organised several local and international coordination, fundraising or logistics related calls to ensure that the support, supplies and donations make their way to the refugees as efficiently as possible. Apparently, the group is still actively used to provide support with accommodation, food, transport paperwork, and much more.

Furthermore, Linda, initiated and drove a project to develop a handbook in Ukrainian to provide guidance and support to the Jewish refugees, reaching out to and involving the key stakeholders to ensure that the handbook contains all the relevant and up to date information that is necessary to get by and to know where to turn to, should that be necessary. 

In addition to that, with the amazing support that BBYO Hungary has received form its local network, large amounts of donations have been collected and delivered to the local JCC, which now also serves as a logistics headquarters for distributing supplies. Nevertheless, the JCC also hosts families and provides childcare activities to allow the parents to arrange paperwork or other obligations a bit more conveniently. To further support such activities, BBYO Hungary has donated 60 books in Russian to families with young children, which were written by Linda and address religious topics such as Jewish holidays or stories from the Torah.

To further demonstrate just how powerful and caring our amazing BBYO Parents and network members are, since the beginning of the crisis, they volunteered dozens of hours at railway stations and elsewhere, to assist refugees the best they can. Furthermore, Ben, also our BBYO Advisor, has volunteered days to support the Aliyah process of the families trying to seek refuge in Israel.

Moreover, BBYO Hungary has also put considerable effort into trying to assist teens across the community with specialised programs. As part of these, we invited a professional psychologist to conduct specific exercises to help teens identify and process emotions, and to provide a safe platform for them openly discuss anxiety or worries in relation to the war in our neighbouring country. Whilst in our perception, the teens did need such a programme, for us, it was a lot more interesting and also surprising how apparently, they also desired support in trying to make sense of all of this on a more rational level. Therefore, we conducted follow up programs (due to the high demand) to also address these the best we can. Lastly, but not least as part of these programs we have prepared over 200 sandwiches for those who arrived to Budapest by trains, delivering the sandwiches to the Western Railway Station.

To sum up, we would never have expected these outcomes and we are rather proud to have engaged with, supported and facilitated, at least in some part, the societal level response and support that Hungarians provided to the Ukrainian refugees. Whilst we realise that the overall contribution by BBYO Hungary with the relatively limited resources was not as significant as those of larger organisations, in our perception, we still successfully managed to have some impact despite all the challenges that we have encountered on our way.

However, as the war seems to be getting lengthier and more brutal by the day, we will try to ensure that we are able to provide consistent and sustainable support throughout, for as long as necessary, and we recommend that you encourage the same in your respective communities.

BBYO Hungary was one of many contributors to the food, supplies, toys, and more pictured below.

Linda Verő Bán is the Director of BBYO Hungary.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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