By Daliah Kurtzweil, Dnepropetrovsk
Members of the well organized Jewish community in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, feel like history is repeating itself and they have a good reason to think so.
The world is currently commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of what is known now as World War One in 1914. The war brought to Dnepropetrovsk many Jewish refugees who were expelled from Lithuania as suspected spies for Germany.
Coming to their aid was the city’s revered Chief Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schneerson, father of the Rebbe, who organized shelters for hundreds of Jewish refugees of all ages during the war.
Together with his wife Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, the kabbalist known as Reb Levik also secured the release of those in prison using the services of the best attorneys available.
100 years have passed and it seems like history is repeating itself as Dnepropetrovsk once again becomes the home of a flow of refugees coming from war-torn cities and villages in Ukraine’s war-torn east.
“We never thought we’d reach the point when we’d have to deal with something like this, but the same situation that took place here 100 years ago is certainly repeating itself,” said Zelig Brez, Director of the local Jewish community and refugee aid center, expressing pain at the turn of events.
The current fighting in Donetsk and Lugansk has led to many requests from individuals and from the communities in search of homes for the refugees and solutions for the children’s education.
We are working in coordination with Donetsk Chief Rabbi Pinchas Vishedsky and Chief Rabbi and Head Shliach in Lugansk, Rabbi Sholom Gopin who have been offered refuge for their communities in Dnepropetrovsk. The youngest refugee arrived at the age of six weeks, and there are a few who have since been born here! All the families receive appropriate guidance and support.
The Dnepropetrovsk Jewish Community is preparing to integrate the children in educational institutions for the coming school year, still the hope that these wonderful people will be able to reunite soon with their communities and with their dear Shluchim in their home cities.
Where are the refugees staying? During the summer vacation, accommodations were provided at the boarding school for boys located in Rabbi Levi Yitzchok’s Shul on Mironova street. This is the largest center, providing accommodation and also meals. Living quarters have also been made available at the girls’ boarding home, at the modern “Beit Baruch” nursing home and at Beit Chana Seminary. In addition, many families in the community have opened their homes to host these precious people.
In a Shabbos sermon in shul, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky spoke about the importance of helping to support this effort, both logistically and financially. In response, donations poured in from the local Jewish community, and a new relief organization was established to provide for the needs of the refugees in our city.
“We would like to thank the Shluchim, Rabbi Meir Stambler and Rabbi Yossi Glick who responded immediately and offered their boarding schools to accommodate these new residents. The JDC and the Jewish Agency are also doing their best to help us in any way they can,” said Rabbi Kamenetsky.
All the refugees are entitled to medical treatment and laboratory testing at the Jewish Medical Center. It is important to note that the Center offers medical treatment to the general public too. At the Women’s Medical Center, pregnant women receive high-level medical care. Rabbi Kamenetsky thanks the Boston Jewish community for their support in funding and caring for this Center.
Another venue which hosts the guests is the “Menorah” Center – the largest Jewish center in the world, housing a hotel and a guest house. The visiting Rabbis, Shluchim and families enjoy kosher food and Jewish activities, a Synagogue, kosher shops and a Mikvah. The guest Shluchim give lessons in the Shul where both the locals and the refugees come to hear the teachings of the “guest speakers.”
Rabbi Aryeh Kaminstein from Donetsk is currently giving a fascinating series of lectures about the Temple.
In the cities of Lugansk and Donetsk people are being murdered in the streets and no-one dares to step out of their house, not even onto the balcony. The fear is huge. Locals are hearing hair-raising tales of escape from real danger and the threat of death. Two active members of the Lugansk Jewish community- a mother and daughter, were murdered leaving behind a 4-year-old orphan who is wondering where his mother has disappeared to.
The situation has worsened two weeks ago in Donetsk- the streets are full of soldiers and more of the Donetsk Jewish population is expected to arrive in the Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk. Some of the refugees who arrive here are on their way to Israel.
At the recent wedding of the Shliach Aryeh Leib Virin from Donetsk and Channah Rivkah from Lugansk, a student at the Beit Chana Seminary of Dnepropetrovsk, which took place in Dnepropetrovsk a few weeks ago, there were fewer guests than expected, due to the difficulties and dangers on the roads, but our local community turned out in force to ensure a lively wedding for the bride and groom.
The event, held at the banquet hall in the “Menorah” Center was a very moving event. The photographer recalls that the bride was very emotional and cried under the Chupah as she had never seen a bride cry. Interestingly, the bride’s great-grandfather, who lived in the city of Nikolayev, used to pray in the same Shul as Rabbi Levi Yitzchok.
Ukraine now understands the meaning of life in the shadow of terrorism, and has decided to strengthen its support for Israel. Last week, a rally of solidarity for Israel was held in Dnepropetrovsk. The demonstration, by the way, was not organized by Jews.
In addition, the Synagogue has organized general help for the Ukrainian soldiers who are guarding the city’s residents. Four truckloads carrying bottles of drinking water have been donated as well as boxes full of basic supplies and other products for the soldiers’ wellbeing.
The assistance organizations are working under the leadership of Dnepropetrovsk’s Jewish community’s president- Mr. Gennadi Bugalubov.