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‘Jewish soup’ keeps soldiers and refugees warm at Romanian-Ukrainian border – The Australian Jewish News

The first thing Ukrainian refugees see when entering Romania through the Siret border crossing is a tent serving what is known locally as “Jewish soup”.

The tent is operated by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC, and the soup is a local version of a bean and vegetable borscht that is distributed day and night to haggard Ukrainians emerging from their war-torn homes. war. the country.

“I’ve already made 31 big pots like these,” Tuvia Zechter, the retired cook who runs the makeshift kitchen near the border, told the Jewish Telegraph Agency. The JDC is one of many charitable groups that have set up shop to serve what has become a relentless flow of displaced women and children.

“Everyone likes our food and they come to eat here from everywhere,” Zechter added, referring to the Romanian volunteers, soldiers, firefighters and police who work to welcome the refugees.

A Romanian-born Israeli, Zechter spent 15 years of his life cooking for the Israeli police in Netanya and also worked in restaurants and hotels abroad. He returned to Romania to retire and now lives “far from the big city” in the historically Jewish town of Radauti, about 20 kilometers south of the Ukrainian border.

JDC Romania director Israel Sabag welcomes a group of Ukrainian Jews to the Romanian side of the border. Photo: Marcel Gascón Barberá

Zechter joined Jewish efforts to help Ukrainians fleeing the Russian army when a nephew, Israeli-American businessman Moti Kahana, from the United States, asked him to take on the responsibility of running a soup popular for refugees at the border.

Kahana has drawn attention for leading daring missions to extract thousands of Jews and other needy people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. He now works on the Romanian-Ukrainian border, a place that has a personal connection with him.

“My family is from Romania, and when the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee called me and said we needed a cook, I said, that’s wonderful, my uncle lives in the street,” Kahana told JTA before crossing the border to help an Israeli businessman waiting to cross into Ukraine.

A serial entrepreneur who earned what he described as ‘millions of dollars’ when he sold his most successful company to car rental giant Hertz, Kahana has since specialized in rescuing people in danger through his company, GDC, which provides logistics and humanitarian diplomacy services to nonprofits.

Kahana decided to start her own business after being deeply disappointed by the way some non-governmental organizations spent her donations.

“When I saw NGOs spending my money to fly first class, I decided to offer my help directly to people, so I go to the border myself and see what I can do for them” , said Kahana, who often works on a voluntary basis. in addition to the remunerated missions that he carries out through his company. According to him, NGOs are more productive and profitable when they outsource their logistical work to professionals.

“Otherwise, you risk spending most of the money you raise on salaries,” he explained.

Moti Kahana at the Siret border post. Photo: JTA

Kahana said he was impressed by the response from the Romanian people and government.

“There are more people coming to help than real refugees,” he said. “Politicians, including mayors of small towns, come to ask how they can help and offer to take in refugees.

He presented an invoice from his last purchase, which consisted of sugar, pasta, cereals and cooking oil, as proof that Romanians are not looking to make illicit profits during the crisis.

“Usually people would charge me more because I’m an American company,” he said. “But here it is different. Suppliers insist on offering discounts and some people refuse to be paid for their work.

In recent days, Kahana’s GDC has started partnering with the Israeli Embassy in Romania.

“Since Moti can cross to the other side, and we can only be on the Romanian side, he helps us distribute aid to people waiting in the line,” Israel’s ambassador told JTA. in Romania, David Saranga.

More than 4,000 Israelis have fled Ukraine via Romania since the start of the war, and Israel has offered to help them return home. In addition to immigration support for other Jews who crossed the border, the Israeli Embassy distributed clothing, shoes, games and other items to refugees arriving in Siret.

Israel also helped rescue 10 children with cancer and other serious illnesses who had fled Kyiv with their parents. They will receive free treatment at Schneider Children Medical Center in Petach Tikvah.

Women, children and the elderly from towns and villages all over Ukraine constantly arrive in Siret. Rina Dukno is a computer engineering student and comes with her mother, sister, nephews and two cats.

“I’m not 100 percent sure yet, but I think I’ll make aliyah,” Dukno told JTA. She planned to start the process next year through Masa Israel Journey, which organizes experiences in Israel for young adults. But the Russian invasion of his country changed everything.

Laiza Vedeneva at the JDC court with her grandmother. Photo: Marcel Gascón Barberá

“I always wanted to move to Israel with my family, but not under these conditions,” said Dukno, who speaks only a little Hebrew and expressed sadness at having to leave “so quickly and with just a few bags. “. She hopes that peace will soon be restored in her native country.

Laiza Vedeneva arrived on the same bus from Kamianske. She has finished high school and plans to study languages ​​in Israel, where her mother already lives. Vedeneva flees Ukraine with her grandmother. Together with the rest of the group, they plan to travel to Bucharest, where they will spend a few nights in a hotel before flying to their new life in Israel. Among the candidates for immigration are also Svetlana and her sister Irina, two retirees from the town of Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine, the birthplace of the Jewish President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Beautifully, when newcomers finish their portion of Zechter’s popular “Jewish soup,” JDC Romania director Israel Sabag always greets them in Hebrew, Ukrainian, and Russian. The crowd cheers, eyes light up and smiles appear on tired faces.

Daniel Adrian Dogaru, 48, is a stonemason by profession and lives in Slanic Moldova, a small Romanian town 250 kilometers south of Siret. Besides Romanian, he speaks Hungarian, Bulgarian, Greek and English. He came alone to the border to volunteer and use his language skills to help others communicate with the refugees.

After identifying JDC’s operations as the most effective in Siret, he joined them as a volunteer, saying he was impressed by “the seriousness and speed of the Jews” in responding to the refugee crisis in his country.

“Before, I was a Catholic,” Dogaru joked. “But for 10 days I have been a Jew.”

JTA

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