Jewish charities strive to prepare for Passover amid war-torn Ukraine

In Kiev, internally displaced people will gather from across the country for Seders specially geared toward the exiles.

April 1, 2015 01:54
3 minute read.

A JOINT Distribution Committee worker distributes matzot in Kiev last week.. (photo credit: SAM SOKOL)

Last week Donetsk Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski was worried.

A leader of his city’s refugee community in Kiev, he was pushing the army to allow him to send a shipment of matzot through the front into rebel-held territory so that his congregants remaining behind could celebrate Passover. Currently held by separatists, Donetsk is at the center of a Russian-backed insurgency against Kiev and moving people or goods from one side of the line can be a logistical nightmare, requiring permits from both sides.

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On Tuesday afternoon the rabbi was much more upbeat, however.

“Thank God the matzot arrived in Donetsk and Luhansk and there will be a big [communal] Seder [meal] both on the first and second nights of the holiday,” as well as meals during the day, he enthused.

In Kiev, where he currently works to coordinate the delivery of aid provided, internally displaced people from Donetsk will gather from across the country for Seders specially geared toward the exiles, Vishedski added.

The matzot, which were donated by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, are only part of the foreign aid effort aimed at making sure that those affected by Ukraine’s ongoing civil war will be able to celebrate Passover.

In Dnepropetrovsk on Sunday dozens of refugees, including seven children between the ages of two and 10 who “learned about the holiday for the first time, attended a practice Seder prior to their imminent aliya and first passover in Israel, according to the Jewish Agency, which sponsored the event.

“In light of the situation in eastern Ukraine, the Jewish Agency is providing immediate assistance to Jews who wish to immigrate to Israel while increasing its investment in Jewish institutions’ security infrastructure,” a spokesman for the group said.

“The Jewish Agency has established a special refugee center outside the city of Dnepropetrovsk in order to accommodate Jews fleeing the embattled region and prepare them for their immigration to Israel, providing them with food and shelter, offering them intensive Hebrew classes, and preparing them for life in Israel.

Hundreds of immigrants have already passed through the center, which is supported by contributions from the Jewish Agency’s longtime Christian partners.”

The community in Dnepropetrovsk is expecting record attendance at its own group Seder event, according to local Jewish leader Zelig Brez, who last week filmed a video showcasing how to run a Seder according to Halacha.

The local community, financially supported by Igor Kolomoisky, the Jewish former governor of the Dnepropetrovsk Oblast (region), has accepted a growing tide of refugees as the situation in the east has deteriorated.

“Most of those who come to the public Seders aren’t deeply observant and it’s important to have a connection to the emcee of the Seder. This Seder in this hall is one of the biggest, with 1,500 people who come and want to be part of it, but with such a large number one person without a microphone can’t lead, so the community now goes into a new project to teach every single father and person what is the Seder all about, how to do it and how to live it,” he told The Jerusalem Post last week.

Meanwhile, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which already runs a network of Hessed social service centers throughout the former Soviet Union, has announced that it will run various Passover related activities including Seders, passover cooking classes and the distribution of 48,000 free boxes of matza.

In Dnepropetrovsk, a Passover “university” will be held to instruct young people how to run a Seder, while holiday activities for children will be run both in rebel and government held areas and Seders for pensioners will be held in Kiev, Kharkov and Odessa, the group announced.

Working with the JDC, the IFCJ says it has donated 35,000 food boxes, 3,500 clothing cards for children, and has arranged Seders for some 15,000 people in 260 communities across the country, with a further 60 Seders organized through Chabad.

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