Wednesday, December 07, 2022

‘We pray for you’: Ukrainian Jews mark Passover, if they can

VASYLKIV, Ukraine ( Associated Press) — The chief rabbi for Kyiv and Ukraine was found at a cemetery in the final hours before Passover. Before he could mark the escape of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago, he was burying a man who had not survived the Russian pillage.

Rabbi Moshe Azman does not know how many Jewish people were killed in the Russian invasion. But on Friday, on a rural hill, they buried another.

“People of all nationalities, they are in this tragedy,” he said.

The dead man belonged to the Bucha community outside Kyiv, whose name is now clouded with terror. The man last posted on his Facebook page in early March. His body was found recently after the Russians withdrew.

No family attended his burial, and the rabbi did not know where they were.

“He was a quiet man,” said the rabbi. “A very nice boy.” He was shot and his body showed signs of possible torture.

This Passover, “I pray to God that He will perform miracles, just as He did miracles for the Jewish people in Egypt,” said the rabbi. The Ukrainian people would like to be free from the Soviet Union, where he was born. “I don’t want to go back,” he said.

When asked what he thought of the Russian government’s claims of “de-nazifying” Ukraine, the rabbi paused, then turned and pointed to the grave.

“That’s the answer,” he said. “They killed him. And not only him.” He said Russians are killing Russians, Ukrainians, Jewish people, including children, even in hospitals, without asking who they are. He believes these are war crimes.

The rabbi’s message to Jewish people in Ukraine who cannot celebrate the Passover because they are stuck or have no food is simple, direct and meaningful: “We pray for you.” He is concerned about the people in the besieged city of Mariupol, the bombed city of Kharkiv.

The rabbi said he and his allies were working to deliver essential Jewish food to hundreds of thousands of people across Ukraine. “Be strong,” he said. “Belief in God.” He wished for a “new, good world, without war”.

The rabbi said Passover was also being celebrated in the Ukrainian cities of Odessa, Dnipro and Kharkiv, although he was not sure about Chernihiv.

In the synagogue in Kyiv shortly before dinner, a young boy exclaimed “Oh!” As soon as the wine bottles were opened. It was not clear how many people would be involved because of the curfew.

One attendee, Nathan Skibalski, said he usually marks Passover elsewhere, but sees fellow volunteers like himself as a new family. He said he was pitching in as a driver to help with the evacuation.

Some people are still waiting for that salvation.

“I hope this is our last Passover in the war,” Skibalski said.


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