Moldova Jewish community struggles to absorb the influx of refugees escaping war ravaged Ukraine

Rabbi Pinchas Salzman fights tirelessly to ensure nobody is left behind but the numbers are overwhelming

 Local synagogues turned into shelters (photo credit: AY Moldova)
Local synagogues turned into shelters
(photo credit: AY Moldova)

With the outbreak of the war, thousands of people began to flock daily from Ukraine to Moldova. The Jewish community of Chisinau is the first transit station for Jews and Israelis from all Ukrainian cities in the conflict zone. The community, at the initiative of Rabbi Pinchas Salzman, took on the responsibility of caring for the well-being of the Jews fleeing all parts of Ukraine. Indeed, in the weeks before the outbreak of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Jewish community in Kishinev was mobilizing for the influx of refugees. 

Preparations included locating complexes and accommodation for hundreds of families, converting and equipping large kitchens for the preparation of hundreds of hot meals daily, communication and rescue equipment and locating buses and vehicles to transport families and refugees from the Ukrainian border into MoldovaRabbi Pinchas Zaltsman, had never broken Shabbat before the war broke out. For the last two weeks, because of "pikuah nefesh” (the halachik terminology for saving lives) he put his Sabbath observance aside, drove to the Ukrainian border several times over, managed an entire operation via phone and satellite, paid money where necessary, given orders to cook on Shabbat for women and children and made life-or-death decisions about who to assist and who to leave behind until another opportunity arises to help them. Christian refugees also continue to flock to the borders surrounding the Ukraine, the Rabbi and his community have found themselves on the front line in these refugee’s greatest hour of need. His synagogue has become a sanctuary for Ukrainian refugees. Dozens of these people slept in his small synagogue or in the surrounding temporary lodging that was set up by volunteers. 

"The thousands of refugees are welcomed in the community with warm arms, accommodation, full, hot and nutritious meals, basic equipment, warm clothing and humanitarian and consular assistance for leasing with the Israeli authorities”, explain Salzman. The Rabbi personally handles bureaucracy and problematic cases at border crossings, and assists anyone in distress with the authorities.

 Ukraine refugees wait at stations close to the border (credit: AY Moldova) Ukraine refugees wait at stations close to the border (credit: AY Moldova)

“The cold is debilitating, there is no shelter available as the cities are packed and women and children are fleeing and leaving their husbands and fathers behind, not knowing when they will be reunited. Food supplies are hard to come by and feeding so many families a hot meal has become overwhelming”, explains the Rabbi. 

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Rabbi Zaltsman estimates that he has personally helped some 9,000 Ukrainian Jews and has spent more than $7.5 million but funds have depleted almost entirely. The city has also experienced an influx from Chabad volunteers form around the globe who are working around the clock to assist where they can. 

The Agudath Yisroel community in Moldova, led by Rabbi Salzman, urgently need funds to continue to feed and assist the masses seeking shelter and basic necessities from the Ukraine war zone. “This is the time to stand together, to be proud that we can rise to the occasion and save lives! Everyone can make a difference, can feed a family or shelter an elder. We must not stand idly by!” 

To donate to the emergency Refugee campaign in Moldova >>

This article was written in cooperation with Agudath Yisrael Moldova