In response to the refugee crisis stemming from the war in Ukraine, Yeshiva University’s president, Ari Berman, travelled to Vienna to assist, along with a group of 28 Yeshiva students. He writes of the experience:
Two weeks ago, my two oldest sons and I walked past the balcony of the Hofberg Palace in Vienna. It was on that balcony on March 15, 1938, that Adolf Hitler announced the Austrian Anschluss [annexation] to Nazi Germany. I showed my sons the grainy black and white video of his speech as we stood there, chilled with disbelief. Moments later, we met with Wolfgang Sobotka, the president of the Austrian National Council, whose grandfather was a Nazi. Sobotka has forged his own path as a leader in the fight against anti-Semitism and as a champion of the Viennese Jewish community. Today, Sobotka and his country are sheltering 1,000-2,000 new Ukrainian refugees a day, including hundreds of Jews.
Virtually every Jew I know is a refugee or a descendant of refugees. And so, when we saw Ukrainians forced to pack their bags and flee their country, we knew it was time to pack our own bags and go where we were needed.
The Viennese Jewish community of 8,000 has already taken in 500 Jewish refugees from Ukraine and is expecting an additional 1,000 in the weeks ahead.
Our visit took place during the week of the Jewish holiday of Purim, a celebration of how Queen Esther saved her people from an attempt to rid the ancient Persian empire of its Jews. Purim is typically celebrated in costume, so when we traveled to Vienna, our students brought close to 500 Purim costumes and duffle bags full of toys and decorations. Mostly, they brought spirit; they danced and sang so that refugees, many of whom had only been in Vienna for a few days, could still experience the holiday in its fullness.