Sonoma Valley Interfaith community rallies for Ukraine

The Congregation Shir Shalom’s celebration of shabbat and the end of Passover coincided with an event to support Ukraine.|

Sonoma Valley’s faith community gathered at the First Congregational Church on Friday, April 22 to raise money for nonprofits aiding displaced Ukrainians amid the Russian invasion.

The event, held in concert between the Congregation Shir Shalom and the Sonoma Valley Interfaith Council, raised money for the humanitarian efforts by IsraAid and Church World Service, which have been embedded in Ukraine since the first week of the war.

Rabbi Steve Finley said the event brought in a conservative estimate of $10,000, and Sonoma Sister Cities Association provided an update about the ongoing efforts in Kaniv.

While the event was called in order to support Ukraine, leaders couldn’t help but acknowledge the strange feeling of normalcy being gathered together again in a room with about 120 people.

“How good it is for brother and sister to sit together, can I get an amen?” Finley said, acknowledging two years since the last Shabbat members of the congregation were able to be in-person. “It’s just a real, real pleasure on our Sonoma Valley Interfaith endeavors.”

But on the other side of the world, many Ukrainian families have been torn apart by Russian military forces bombing campaigns or occupation. Of the 7.5 million children who lived in Ukraine before the start of the war, 4.3 million have been displaced to find shelter in other parts of Ukraine or outside the country, according to UNICEF, a United Nation’s humanitarian group focusing on children.

Sarith Honigstein, a spokesperson for IsraAid, said her organization has created a base camp in Moldova where the vast majority of displaced Ukrainian citizens have left to in fear of the conflict.

“Since Feb. 27, our experts have been providing protection, education and health support, as well as distributing essential relief items, for thousands of refugees in Palanca at the Ukrainian-Moldovan border and in Chișinău, the Moldovan capital,” an April 14 Emergency Update from IsraAid said.

Co-chair of Sonoma Sister Cities Association Sylvia Toth provided an update on fundraising efforts, saying $40,000 of the $50,000 raised to that point had been distributed to nonprofits working in Ukraine.

During her update, Toth was forced to recompose herself, explaining that the fundraising efforts for refugees and displaced persons brought back memories of fleeing the then-Soviet state of Hungary with her parents during its revolution in 1956.

“We’re going to continue doing this for however long is necessary to do it,” Toth said to the crowd. “Out sister city has not been bombed. However, that’s where most of the refugees are going through.”

Toth then shared a message from her Kaniv counterpart that was sent during Easter weekend, calling Sonoma its “guardian angel and helping hand in this time of hardship.”

Local leaders also attended the event, including Sonoma Mayor Jack Ding, who provided a brief speech highlighting the history and importance of sister cities.

“This is why we have sister cities. And it’s beautiful to see a connection between our two cities, Sonoma and Kaniv,” Ding said. “Sonoma may be a small town but it plays a very large role on the international stage.”

Contact Chase Hunter at chase.hunter@sonomanews.com and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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