Picture a synagogue in Kharkiv, Ukraine, as Rosh Hashanah approaches. The room is bathed in soft candlelight, and the sweet melodies of prayer fill the air. Families are gathered, hopeful and determined to celebrate the Jewish New Year. But amidst this solemn and joyous occasion, there's an unsettling interruption—a sudden and unexpected noise. Four missiles have struck nearby, briefly disturbing the congregation.
This is how Rosh Hashanah unfolded for Ukraine's Jewish community, a reminder that the shadow of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict looms even in celebration.
Celebrating the New Year amidst conflict
As the Jewish community worldwide gathered to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish communities in Ukraine faced a unique challenge - celebrating their new year amidst ongoing conflict. Despite the adversity, their resilience and faith shone through, thanks to the support of organizations like the Jewish Relief Network Ukraine (JRNU).
In the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, worshippers experienced a moment of fear when four missiles struck nearby during the dawn prayer. Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, the local Rabbi and a Chabad emissary, recounted the incident, saying, "There was a deafening noise. We quickly fled to a protected area, and a few minutes later, we resumed our prayers. On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, four more rockets fell, this time at 12:30. Today, during the shofar blowing, the synagogue was packed, reminiscent of better times, with a record six hundred Jews."
In Odessa, the Jewish community gathered for two days of celebration, with one hundred eighty Jews coming together for festive meals at a central hotel. Rabbi Avraham Wolff, a Chabad emissary, described the atmosphere as "truly remarkable," noting that "the place was so crowded that there was hardly any room to move as if there were no war. Hundreds of Jews joined us at the synagogue for all the holiday prayers."
In Zaporozhye, close to five hundred Jews gathered at the central synagogue. Rabbi Nachum Ehrentreu, the city's Rabbi and a Chabad emissary, expressed his impression, saying, "We are still deeply moved by the holiday. All the prayers proceeded relatively peacefully, with only a few alarms."
In the capital city of Kyiv, the Kedem community celebrated Rosh Hashanah alongside Chabad emissary Rabbi Pinchas Vishedsky. The holiday prayers and meals took place in the city's most prestigious hotel, aiming to uplift the community's spirits after enduring a year and a half of ongoing conflict.
JRNU played a vital role
Throughout Ukraine, the Jewish community leaders reported a relatively calm situation during the days of Rosh Hashanah. Personal plates were prepared in advance for communal holiday meals, adorned with traditional symbols such as a fish's head, a pomegranate, and an apple dipped in honey.
The Jewish Relief Network Ukraine (JRNU) played a vital role in supporting these communities in their time of need. Just before the holiday, dozens of communities received substantial food and special packages from JRNU. These shipments included essential supplies, striking calendars, informative holiday pamphlets, and various accessories to enhance the celebration.