Rabbi Mende Wolff, baby Tuvia and Ethan Gross at the Mishpacha Orphanage in Berlin.
Rabbi Mende Wolff, baby Tuvia and Ethan Gross at the Mishpacha Orphanage in Berlin.

CEO of Globe Midwest Adjusters International returns to host event to raise awareness and funds for this humanitarian disaster.

It seems like the rest of the world has already forgotten about us.” This is something that several Ukrainians told businessman Ethan Gross when he recently visited the country.

About nine months into the escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, media reports that individual donations are declining. But after Gross saw the effects of the war firsthand, he knows that Ukrainians are still — more than ever — in need of our support.

“It’s my goal to keep the awareness going because it’s too easy to just move on to the next topic. But, in Ukraine, it’s not over, and it’s not going to be over anytime soon,” said Gross, CEO of Globe Midwest Adjusters International in Southfield.

During his 30-plus years as a public insurance adjuster, Gross is no stranger to disasters and tragedies — but nothing to the magnitude of what’s going on in Ukraine.

“When there are millions and millions of people displaced essentially overnight, that’s something most of us haven’t seen in our lifetimes; it’s reminiscent of World War II. This is such a massive humanitarian crisis, and everybody needs to try and help out in any way they can,” Gross said.

Ethan Gross hands out cans of Coke to all the children at the orphanage in Berlin.
Ethan Gross hands out cans of Coke to all the children at the orphanage in Berlin.

“For me, I wanted to go and see things in person. As an adjuster, when I meet with a client whose house or business burned down, you learn so much more by physically looking at the site than you would talking on the phone or looking at pictures. I wanted to do the same with Ukraine so, when I came home, I could report back on what it’s like there and why they need our help.”

Gross spent a week with the Jewish Relief Network Ukraine (JRNU). He started his trip in Berlin, Germany, where the Mishpachah Orphanage of Odessa, Ukraine, moved temporarily since Russia’s invasion. Nearly 200 people — including children, staff and refugees — have been staying at this makeshift orphanage within a German hotel since the first days of the war.

“They were able to rent out an entire hotel — converting the rooms into bedrooms, classrooms and shul. The work being done there is truly amazing. It goes far beyond food and shelter. It is love, caring and creating a sense of family for everyone there,” he said.

While visiting the orphanage, Gross learned that even the smallest gestures make a world of difference to these children. He asked the staff if there was anything specific he could do for the children and was told that they love Coca Cola as a treat. So, Gross went out and bought them 200 cans of Coke.

“Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces and the excitement and gratitude they had just to receive their own can of Coke — it was beautiful,” he said. “It’s amazing how something as simple as a can of Coke that most people take for granted can bring joy to those who are going through such a difficult time.”

On the Ground in Odesa

Gross spent the second part of his trip in Odessa, where he visited a preschool, high school, senior center and synagogue that are run by Chabad of Odessa and supported by the JRNU.

Every weekday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the JRNU hands out boxes of food at the Chabad of Odessa synagogue to hundreds of families. The organization works closely with more than 150 Chabad rabbis across Ukraine to help individuals and families in crises and provide hot meals, food packages and medicine to about 35,000 men, women and children each month.

  Ethan Gross does a magic trick for some of the kids at the Chabad preschool in Odessa.
Ethan Gross does a magic trick for some of the kids at the Chabad preschool in Odessa.

“Seeing it on the news is different from being there in person and seeing all these people lining up for food. Some of the people are from Odessa and some are refugees escaping from more dangerous cities like Kherson. And they’re there every day until 5 p.m.,” Gross said.

When touring the schools, Gross said he found out how things have changed within the last nine months. Approximately 60% of the Jews from Odessa have left. With families fleeing to other cities and countries, the class sizes have diminished — although more refugee children are attending classes there. They’ve also had to consolidate their classrooms so they could use one of the buildings with a basement as a bomb shelter.

“One of the biggest differences since the war started is, of course, funding. Funding is certainly more limited. Many of the biggest donors to the JRNU had to move because their businesses were destroyed. So, now they’re dealing with a smaller and more needy community. That’s where the JRNU comes in — giving them money to help cover their costs,” Gross said.

An Event To Raise Awareness

On his flight back to Detroit, Gross said he felt melancholy as he reflected on what the Ukrainians have gone through with no identifiable end date in sight. He knew, once he returned home, he wanted to do more to help the people there.

So, he came up with the idea to put together a coalition of Metro Detroit congregational and business leaders to work together to support the Jewish community in Ukraine and continue spreading awareness.

When Gross shared his experiences, and then his idea of sponsoring a Detroit/Ukraine Jewish Community Unity Event, his partners, Bobby Levin, Carl Gross (also his brother) and Danielle Levin, immediately and enthusiastically agreed. With winter setting in and infrastructure in Ukraine under constant attack, the needs are greater than ever. As such, it was important to have this event before the end of the year. Many synagogues and other organizations were very receptive to participating.

The event will take place on Dec. 12, from 6:30- 8:30 p.m. at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.  Attendees will hear the stories of individuals who have helped support Ukraine — such as an Okemos man who delivered ambulances and medical supplies to the country and a teenage girl who made bracelets with her friends at her bat mitzvah to give to orphans. Rabbi Mendel Moskowitz will be a featured speaker, sharing his harrowing escape from Kharkov. And, Judi Garrett, the COO of JRNU USA, will update everyone on current conditions and need of the Jewish community in Ukraine.

Participants will also learn what they can personally do to help support Ukrainians and raise money for the relief efforts. Attendees are asked to bring new coats, gloves or hats to donate. The winter clothing will be shipped to Ukraine and distributed to the Jewish community by the JRNU. Attendees will also participate in a message of unity that will be recorded at the event and shared with the Ukrainian Jewish community.

To register to attend, visit Gross’ website at https://d4jrnu.com. You can also read more about Gross’ trip to Ukraine by reading his blog, located on his site. To donate to the Jewish Relief Network Ukraine, visit www.jrnu.org, click donate and select “Detroit Campaign for Ukraine and JRNU” in the dropdown menu.

“Every little bit helps, whether it’s $5 or $500, or you’re making bracelets, driving an ambulance across the border, or just giving a Coke and a smile. Whatever it is, it all adds up. People in Ukraine still need our support, our thoughts, our prayers and our donations. We can all make a difference,” Gross said.

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