With sirens blaring almost constantly and missiles hitting the center of Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Rabbi Nachum Ehrentrau can hear rockets detonating just several hundred meters from his synagogue. The rabbi and his wife, Dina, have directed Chabad-Lubavitch of Zaporizhzhia (also spelled Zaporozhye) for the past 27 years. Shelling notwithstanding, they’re in Zaporizhzhia with four of their children preparing for the High Holidays. “Today, there were very close hits,” Rabbi Ehrentrau told Chabad.org. “I ask everyone to please pray for our community.” “We are still here doing our work. This will be the only place for Jews to pray on Rosh Hashanah and hear the shofar,” the rabbi says. “We have prepared the synagogue to accommodate 700 people,” he told Chabad.org.
“It is our collective duty as a Jewish people to ensure that Ukrainian refugees who are far from their homes and still uncertain about their future will have the opportunity to celebrate the Jewish New Year in joy and comfort,”CEO of Jewish Federations of North America Eric Fingerhut
Ehrentrau shared that since the war began, he’s been connecting with many Jews who he hadn’t known of previously. “The war has aroused people to reconnect with their Judaism,” he says. He’ll be giving out thousands of holiday packages to families before the holiday, with food, toys and locally manufactured honey cookies.
In addition, an American-Jewish organization is continuing to assist Ukrainian Jewish refugees in temporary living situations in Poland. Jewish Federations of North America are sending a group of seven Russian-speaking volunteers from the US and Canada to lead high holidays activities for hundreds of Ukrainian refugees of Jewish descent in Poland, bringing a message of unity and hope at the start of the Jewish New Year. The volunteers are all former refugees who fled the Former Soviet Union decades ago and serve primarily as educators or members of clergy in their local communities.
Volunteers will be placed in the cities of Krakow, Warsaw and Lodz. Special Rosh Hashanah meals and programming will take place in Warsaw in partnership with the office of the Chief Rabbi of Poland. Concerts led by McGill professor of Yiddish and musician Yuri Vedenyapin will incorporate holiday themes and traditional liturgy.
Refugees in Krakow
In Krakow, a Russian-speaking reform rabbi and an artist will lead a Rosh Hashanah meal and educational programming for Ukrainian refugees, in partnership with JCC Krakow. Jewish Federations are also supporting the distribution of holiday aid packages and food for thousands of elderly Jews, coordinated by their partner JDC (the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee). Since March, Jewish Federations’ Global Volunteer Hub has placed 90 Russian and Ukrainian-speaking skilled North American volunteers in Poland and Hungary to support Ukrainian refugees, in partnership with JDC and The Jewish Agency for Israel Jewish Federations have raised $74 million to date for humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees since fighting broke out on February 24th.
“It is our collective duty as a Jewish people to ensure that Ukrainian refugees who are far from their homes and still uncertain about their future will have the opportunity to celebrate the Jewish New Year in joy and comfort,” said President and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America Eric Fingerhut. “I am so proud of our Federation system for the tremendous response to this crisis and the unwavering commitment to Jews in distress around the globe.”
Rosh Hashanah with the Magzimofs
“This Rosh Hashanah we have a full program which includes Hospitality for holiday meals, educational sessions and explanatory services during Chag in various shuls in London,” said Rivka Magzimof, the wife of Rabbi Eli Magzimof, the new co-directors of ReJewvenate - “a new initiative by the United Synagogue UK aimed to inspire Jewish young adults and young families across the UK to reconnect with their Jewish community and heritage and to take an active role in building the future of UK Jewry,” according to Magzimof.
The Magzimof family currently lives in London and are graduates of the Straus Amiel and Beren Amiel programs of Ohr Torah Stone.
She added that “some of the sessions will be led by young professionals in the community and our aim is to facilitate and empower them to take more initiatives.” They arrived in London this past summer and left their home in Efrat, a settlement in Gush Etzion in order to influence the UK Jewish community.
At Princeton University, Rabbi Azi and Atara Horvitch, also graduates of the Straus Amiel and Beren Amiel programs of Ohr Torah Stone, have been preparing the local college students for the High Holidays. “We have been busy cooking for the feasts we will host during Rosh Hashanah,” the told the Post. “In addition, we’ve been doing rehearsals with the student who will be blowing the shofar and preparing sermons.”
“The school held a Tishrei (the first Hebrew month of the year) carnival for the first time; students from the middle school prepared and operated stations for the elementary school children on the all of the Tishrei holidays,” said Avraham and Netanel Monderer, emissaries of Ohr Torah Stone at Addlestone Hebrew Academy, in Charleston South Carolina. The activities included, “tasting the simanim (symbolic foods that are eaten on Rosh Hashanah), making decorations for the Sukkah, measuring with scales, identifying kosher Sukkahs and making New Year's cards,” according to the Monderers. “The students of kindergarten, first and second grades sang songs in Hebrew for Rosh Hashanah and at the end of the event all the students of the school surprised the parents and performed in a joint dance,” they shared.
In the Dor Tikvah congregation, also in Charleston, the Monderers created a special challah event for children in collaboration with Pj library, making challah dough, friendship bracelets, decorations for the Rosh Hashana and making a challah cover. In addition, the youth of the congregation baked honey cakes and distributed them to elderly Jews in the local nursing home.
Chabad centers around the US are expecting record attendance this High Holiday season: at least 15 percent higher than previous pre-Covid records, according to Chabad.org. Ira Sheskin, professor of geography at the University of Miami and one of the foremost experts in Jewish demography told the Chabad website that “We’re going to see an upturn [in synagogue attendance], and I think it will eventually come back down but settle at a higher level than before,” he predicted. “People saw how after not having human contact for so long they really want to go to services.” Naturally, having a strong presence across the country, in major metropolitan areas and in smaller, rural cities with little to no other Jewish infrastructure, Chabad-Lubavitch will absorb many of those seeking out spirituality and meaning at this time.
Sheskin highlights the findings of the 2021 Pew study which found 38 percent of American Jews engage with Chabad, echoed by a 2014 study Sheskin led in Miami, which found that almost 50 percent of households under the age of 35 are involved with Chabad programs. The 2020 Metropolitan Chicago Jewish Population Study found that Chabad had the highest levels of engagement of any single Jewish community in Chicago with particularly high engagement in the in-person category.