Pesach and Stories from Ukraine
April 2022. Keeping Connected
In just a few week’s our congregation, along with Jewish communities around the world, will be celebrating Pesach. The spiritual and moral themes of Pesach have always been profoundly meaningful to me, but this year the messages of freedom, liberty and welcoming the stranger feel particularly resonant. Last week I participated in an on-line meeting hosted by the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Together with Reform rabbis from around the world, we listened to our liberal rabbinic colleagues from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It was a powerful and humbling experience to hear their personal stories. These rabbis and their congregants are facing challenges few of us could ever imagine. Because of issues of security all of those participating in the call promised not to quote anyone directly, to share the speaker’s names or their current locations. I have been provided a summary of their stories and requests for help. In this brief note, I will try to highlight some of the important points and information.
Please reach out to me directly if you would like to get more involved.
L’shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach,
Rabbi Shoshana M. Perry
Ukraine – Both the progressive rabbis from Odessa and Kyiv have had to leave the country. At least half of the Odessa community have become refugees and are currently dispersed between places like Germany, Israel and Poland, although they are also in other countries. At this time their Sifrei Torah have been taken to what they hope will be a safe places outside the cities. When asked, the Rabbi from Odessa said that their community needs spiritual and moral support. They continue to meet for daily evening services along with the community from Kyiv. We are invited to join them for services on Facebook live at the below sites. You can also write words of support to members of the community. This small act of participation is comforting and strengthening for them.
Czech Republic – Over 300,000 refugees had arrived in the Czech Republic by last week. For a country of about 10 million people, this is a significant infusion of people who need financial and psychological support. The progressive community has been able to support Jewish refugees who have arrived in Prague, offering them accommodations, legal advice for asylum seekers and most of all solidarity. In particular, there are so many children who are refugees, the Czech community is trying to raise funds to set up a Jewish kindergarten class for the children from Ukraine. The funds will primarily be used to pay for a teacher who can speak to the children in their own language.
Slovakia – The congregation in Slovakia is working with refugees on issues of transportation, accommodation, food, medical issues, etc. As of last week, they had helped over a hundred people, some of whom have moved on to other countries. The congregation has been able to find others comfortable accommodations and some families want to stay in the country. Most of the people they are helping are women and children or elderly people. The synagogue’s members are supporting people with their own resources and commercial properties and the congregation is spending some of their own financial savings to help. Some of the refugees are staying with families, while others are still in hotels. None of these are long term solutions.
Hungary – Over two hundred thousand people have come into Hungary. The Reform congregation is working in collaboration with the rabbi near to the border to transport people to Budapest. There the refugees are meeting with the sochnut in order to make aliyah. There is a desperate need for money to help with transportion and the purchasing of medicine. The members of the liberal congregation are currently using their own money and resources to help people. They are using theor private cars, hiring buses and drivers to bring people from the border to Budapest. As the rabbi said the congregation is urgently in need of money for transport, accommodations, medical services and medicines, petrol, phone calls, food, communication and unseen costs.
Poland – In the first three weeks of the war, Poland has taken in the majority of refugees. As of last week, about 2 million people arrived seeking support and asylum. The Jewish community through groups like the Joint Distribution Committee, HIAS and the local synagogues have been working tirelessly to help those in need. The rabbi who spoke to us said that people are very frightened and there is fear that Poland could be attacked as well. At least 70% of Warsaw citizens are helping to support refugees and there is a desperate need for financial help from outside the country. The rabbis are requesting moral and financial support. You can read weekly updates about the needs of the community and their efforts at their website. www.JewishRenewalinPoland.org
Russia and Belarus – As you can imagine there is great risk for the Jewish citizens of these two countries. They are in desperate need of medical supplies because of the sanctions, in particular the drug thyroxin. Members of the community need dosages 50, 75, 100. Also Ritalin to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Thyroxin is vital for those who have a seriously affected thyroid gland (the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986). The drug is inexpensive. Through the World Union for Progressive Judaism we can donate money for the medications and the WUPJ will be able to bring them into the country to distribute through Israel. If you would like to write words of support you can e-mail the rabbi at email@example.com I will try to share more information about these two communities in the days ahead.
If you would like to support the Ukraine Crisis Fund at the World Union for Progressive Judaism, you can find information at their website https://wupj.org