Imagine fleeing your home and escaping gunfire only to move to a new place, where you know no one and do not speak the language.

That is what it has been like for about 40 families that are adjusting to life in South Palm Beach County after fleeing war-torn Ukraine this year. They are being helped by a case manager from Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services (JFS) and other Ukrainian and Russian-speaking volunteer families from PJ Library® in South Palm Beach County. Both of these programs are supported by the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County.

The Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County is also a beneficiary of Jewish Federations of North America’s Ukrainian Resettlement Grant Initiative, a $1 million program in partnership with the Shapiro Foundation to support refugees seeking safety in the U.S.

Helping vulnerable families re-build
Earlier this year, the first of the families were paired up with JFS Case Manager Alex Chernis, who is helping them navigate all services they would need, including housing, employment, health insurance, immigration services, and school placement services.

“We had to jump right in and create a crisis intervention service,” said Chernis, program director for JFS’ Caregiver Resources and Respite Program. Families were pointed to JFS Food Pantry, but, Chernis said, “they didn’t want a handout. They wanted to work and to earn a living.”

“While they are waiting for employment authorization, we help them with job training, resume writing, etc.,” he said.

Since many of the families are women with young children, JFS wanted to connect them with other Ukrainian and Russian-speaking families in the area. Enter PJ Library® in South Palm Beach County.

Providing friends who speak their language
PJ Library® in South Palm Beach County has had an established program for Russian-Speaking Jews (RSJ), raising Jewish children in the area who want to connect with other families who speak their language, for two years. The program provides social, emotional and parenting support programs for these families in their native language, including Parent’s Night Out, holiday celebrations, movie nights, and PJ Library story time with Russian books. The program is funded by a grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Genesis Philanthropy Group.

“With the recent influx of Ukrainian families, the program has been a perfect fit to help the newcomers get acclimated to life in America, by networking with other families who speak their language,” said Elana Ostroff, director of PJ Library® and Family Engagement at the Jewish Federation. “The local and new Ukrainian families had a nice meet and greet to celebrate Simchat Torah, where they learned new ways to experience the holiday.”

The volunteer PJ Library® families are assisting the new families settling into life here by providing practical services, like translation and school registrations.  Marina Goldberg has participated in the RSJ PJ Library® program from the beginning. Far away from her family in Ukraine, she cannot help them because of the distance between them, so she aids those nearby.

“This project has been so fulfilling for me and my family to be able to help those families relocated to South Palm Beach County. I look forward to seeing new friendships develop and strengthen over the next year,” she said.

The Federation’s Annual Campaign raises funds to assist families in need, whether they are seeking refuge from a war overseas or overcoming other challenges here at home. To give to the Annual Campaign, visit To help support the Russian Speaking PJ Library® program, please donate to

To learn more about the program or to volunteer, contact Rales JFS at 561-852-3333 or visit To learn more about the programs offered by PJ Library®, call 561-852-6080 or email