While on the annual Chabad on Campus heritage trip in Lublin, Poland, a group of students met refugees who had escaped the war ravaging Ukraine. They immediately paused their trip to gather resources for them.
Sometimes, the change you want to see in the world starts right at home, with you.
That’s the approach students currently on a heritage trip with Chabad on Campus International in Poland took today when they arrived in Lublin, Poland. Long a fixture on such trips, Lublin boasts much Jewish history, chief among them the famed Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, the grand Yeshivah established in 1930 by Rabbi Meir Shapiro. In its time, it was the largest, grandest, and arguably most prestigious institution of its kind, and was the pride and joy of European Jewry.
Every year, when trip organizers bring young Jewish college students to this building, the impression is both sad and invigorating, a reminder of how important it is to maintain our love of Torah.
But this year, trip goers were met with an entirely different site. With a terrible war ravaging Ukraine just to the east, streams of refugees have been pouring into Poland these past few weeks, among them a large contingent of Ukraine’s 350,000 Jews. So when the students walked into Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, they were astonished to see hundreds of beds hosting Jewish refugees, along with a team of volunteers distributing food, medicine, and whatever else is needed for these hapless and disoriented displaced persons.
“We have already encountered refugees in Poland, as the hotel we stayed in the night before was hosting them,” said Rabbi Yossi Witkes, Trips Director at Chabad on Campus International, speaking from Lublin. “But when we saw fellow Jews crammed into this historic shul, aided by members of the local Jewish community that numbers only forty members, everyone was deeply touched.”
Witkes approached one of the volunteers there and asked if they would speak with his group from America. After hearing of their valiant rescue and aid efforts, one of the students asked how they could help.
“We need food, we have no food left,” was the immediate reply.
Without any further ado, the students immediately got to work. Posting on their respective social media outlets, they quickly raised a significant sum, and within minutes, the scheduled program was put on hold for a group trip to the local supermarket.
“I think the urgency of the situation and showing how much teamwork we could use and how much money we could pull together so quickly was a really good reflection of the Jewish people as a whole. It was something really beautiful to be a part of and reflected the Jewish spirit of community and charity.”, said Abby Mensch, of Penn State University Undergrads
When the group returned with a bus full of provisions, the volunteers in the old yeshivah along with the refugees inside were in tears. “We were given a shopping list of one item of this, two of that; you know, limited quantities,” Witkes said. “When we returned with a bus full of stuff, an amount of provisions way beyond what they requested, they were moved to tears, crying in gratitude.”
“So many are looking at the events unfolding in Ukraine and anxiously wondering how they can help. It’s inspiring to see these young students really stepping up to the plate and immediately implementing the lessons of Jewish pride and service they have imbibed on this trip so far,” said Rabbi Yossy Gordon, CEO of Chabad on Campus International.
It just goes to show you: when you see a need and want to do something about it, just do it.