Agence Ometz is a Jewish human services agency offering social, employment and immigration services to help people fulfill their potential and to secure the growth and vibrancy of the Montreal community.
One of Ometz’s school counsellors, Ira Polak Veronneau, recently returned from Moldova, volunteering as a protection specialist for Ukrainian child refugees. She was born in Transnistria and fled to first Ukraine and then Israel when she was 13, following the 1992 regional military conflict between Transnistria and Moldova. An art therapist and social worker by training, she moved to Montreal four years ago and has been working at École Maimonides in Côte Saint-Luc as a social worker. This was her fourth time working with IsraAID, an Israeli NGO that provides relief services in response to major humanitarian crises worldwide; her previous missions were to Sri Lanka, Haiti and Sierre Leone.
Ira is passionate about art therapy as a healing tool for children, youth and families in crisis, and wanted to share what she witnessed at the border with as broad of an audience as possible.
I had a chance to do a group interview with Irina, along with Ometz Chief Program Officer Susan Karpman and Manager for Immigration, Case Management and Volunteer Services Yael Soussana.
Ira told me that before she left for Moldova, she met with every student at École Maimonides to tell them where she was going and why. Since her return, students have been anxious to learn what it was like to spend three weeks on the border of a warzone. “The people I met not only had to leave their homes, but their loved ones,” she explained. “In meeting with these people, I heard a lot of hope. Many said they wanted to return to Ukraine.”
See my video interview with Ira.
Meanwhile, Karpman and Soussana are busy working with their team members to set up the infrastructure to welcome Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine. “We have already welcomed about 30 people,” she said. “Our agency offers a variety of services, so we are here to assist these individuals any way we can. One family arrived with $200, two suitcases and two children. From there, we had a lot of work to do to get them settled. Their resilience is unbelievable.”
Karpman said that many of the initial arrivals already have some family members in Montreal. “We can’t project how many people will be coming in the weeks ahead,” she said. “I need to thank Federation CJA and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs for all of the work they’ve done.”
Soussana is encouraging members of the community who want to help this cause to donate money to the Federation CJA campaign and directly to Ometz. These funds can be used to purchase clothing, food, bedding activities for seniors and day camp registration.
In terms of assisting the new immigrants, Soussana says Ometz facilitates access to social insurance and Medicare cards while navigating the education system and finding housing.
Soussana’s family immigrated to Canada from Spain in the summer of 1980. Ometz (then JIAS) helped them settle into their new apartment, helped them find Jewish schools for her and her sister, and helped her father secure stable employment. Having been a newcomer herself, she understands the obstacles newcomers face firsthand. Working in the same agency that welcomed her family is her way of giving back to the community.
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