Nataliyah Fleshler and Masha Vaynman came to America with their families from Kyiv as young girls. They were part of the wave of Jews from the former Soviet Union who found refuge here in the late 1980’s and 90’s. In those years, Atlanta was a destination for Soviet Jews seeking a new life, and our community more than delivered.
Back then, Jewish Family & Career Services offered translation services to assist scores of refugees flocking to Atlanta. There was a Russian speaking social worker for the FSU (Former Soviet Union) Jewish community. Over time those services became less needed because Jewish refugees to Atlanta had become solid citizens, fluent in English, successful in their careers, yet still bringing their unique ethnic flavor to our city. Just like Nataliyah and Masha, who are both HR professionals and are raising families here.
Nataliyah and Masha are paying their privilege forward by organizing a massive volunteer program to send medical supplies to Ukrainian refugees. They are choosing to forget the bullying, the hatred, and the discrimination they experienced as Jewish children in Ukraine and are throwing themselves into Ukrainian relief work. To me there is something very Jewish about this.
Jews well understand the commandment to love the stranger and protect the vulnerable. Having been strangers in many hostile lands, having been isolated, persecuted, and exterminated because of our differences, we are uniquely attuned to the needs of immigrants and refugees. And baruch ha shem, we Jews have Israel — a Jewish homeland that has never stopped taking in huddled masses from North Africa, Ethiopia, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, and the former Soviet republics.
So, this Passover, let us celebrate Nataliyah and Masha, who have not turned away from the land they fled. They help renew the Passover story for us this year and remind us that we can all be part of a modern-day Exodus for millions of Ukrainians seeking safety and freedom.