In Conversation with Gabi Mandowsky
Hundreds of Ukrainian newcomers are arriving in the GTA as the war in Ukraine continues. They have fled their homes and come to a brand new country without essential supplies or a place to call home. Free temporary accommodations and lower-than-market rentals make a crucial difference in the well-being of these newcomers. UJA Genesis is mobilizing our community to step up and support our partner Jewish Immigrant Aid Services Toronto (JIAS) in providing living accommodations for over 400 Ukrainian families in our community.
UJA’s Rebecca Ostroff chatted with Gabi Mandowsky, Co-Chair of UJA Genesis and member of the board of UJA Federation, about the impact of this initiative, as well as why she opened her own home to a family of Ukrainian newcomers.
If you have space in your home, or access to housing, please consider signing up to provide short-term or long-term housing options for newcomers in need. You can sign up here: Genesis - Accommodations for Refugees & Newcomers | UJA Federation of Greater Toronto (jewishtoronto.com)
Why do you think securing housing is such a challenge for newcomers right now?
Toronto is prohibitively expensive, and there’s not a lot of supply out there. To arrive in a new country without any credit history, or the ability to produce paystubs and all of that, makes it that much harder to find housing. Even if one can obtain a work permit, and then a job—that’s still not a lot to show to landlords. This problem will take more than a few months to solve.
You are hosting a couple from Ukraine in your home. What led you to lend a hand?
They’re actually sharing the space with me right now! When the war started, we, like many others, felt upset and helpless. We reached out to UJA Genesis, and my husband Ori and I were among the first to open our home. We have hosted the same couple since July, which is longer than any of us anticipated. Because we have young kids and continuity is important to them, rather than providing our house as a sort of pit stop, we decided it would be of value to everyone to offer something long-term.
How has having young kids affected your desire to open your home?
I spend a lot of time thinking about how to demonstrate the values that are important to us to our kids. And kids understand tangible, literal experiences. When the war began, I pulled out a globe and tried to show them what the conflict looked like on the map. That just doesn't resonate nearly the same way as having people in the house teaching them different things about the languages they speak, the foods they eat, the different experiences their families back in Kiev are having. In my view, my children have grown so much from this experience.
What is it about this moment that makes it important for our community to keep mobilizing, specifically around housing?
The thing I keep seeing is tragedy fatigue. We are going from crisis to crisis, tragedy to tragedy. It's hard to stay present in that and not totally drown in it. A big challenge that will continue to persist is just the chronic nature of this. This is not a short-term crisis, and housing is a way to offer long-term support. Not just ticking a box and moving on. It is a critical and meaningful opportunity.
What would you say to anyone who is thinking about hosting newcomers but hasn’t made the commitment?
Definitely consider the upside of having this extended family in your home. After contemplating as a family, I’d say the next step is to reach out to UJA Genesis to gain a deeper understanding of the needs. There are enough newcomers and enough need that you will be able to create a situation that is optimal for you–where everyone is set up for success. And if housing isn’t a place you can play a role, Genesis offers other mobilization opportunities where you can make an impact in the lives of newcomer families.
Rebecca Ostroff is a content writer at UJA.
Gabi Mandowsky serves as Co-Chair of UJA Genesis and member of the board of UJA Federation.