For over a week, we have been mesmerized by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The human cost is horrifying, with many dead and injured; millions of people’s lives have become precarious.
I’ve visited Ukraine five times in the last 10 years. In the past week, I’ve sent messages of support to many of the people I met there, including members of the Jewish communities of Lviv, Ternopil, Zbarazh, Kyiv, Cherkassy, Poltava and Lokhvytsya, my guides and several non-Jews who are attempting to preserve abandoned synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.
I usually attend Shabbat services at Newport’s Touro Synagogue, where I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah years ago. On Saturday, Feb. 26, during prayers for the sick, the Ukrainian defense forces were included.
As we prepared to return the Torah to the ark we recited prayers for the U.S. government and the Israeli government, and a combined prayer for the American, Israeli and Ukrainian defense forces.
Rabbi Marc Mandel quoted Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny’s response to my message. Dukhovny is the rabbi at the progressive (Reform) Hatikvah Synagogue, in Kyiv.
“Our congregant Aaron Ginsburg wrote, ‘Rabbi, I am very worried about my friends in Ukraine. My prayers are with you, Best, Aaron,’ ” Rabbi Mandel said.
“Rabbi Dukhovny responded, ‘Thank you so much. I am in Kyiv! Just led a Kabbalat Shabbat service from a basement. Air strikes expected! Praying for peace together!’ ”
Then Rabbi Mandel added, “The parashah tells us, ‘Vayakhel Moshe at kol adat bnei Yisrael. Then Moses gathered together all the people (literally, the entire community of the children of Israel).’ It would have been difficult to gather all the people. Moses must have gathered the leaders of the community. The word used, edah, refers to a community. For example, our minyan is an edah. You don’t have to be present to be part of an edah. The Jews of Ukraine are part of our edah.”
After Shabbat, Rabbi Dukhovny wrote, “The second night I am in the basement of the residential building. Crowded. However, people are calm and full of optimism: peace will prevail and Ukraine will continue to keep its sovereignty and democracy! Amen!”
As I walked in Boston on Sunday [Feb. 27], I came to the end of a demonstration supporting Ukraine that had about 5,000 participants. I started thinking about the Jewish president of Ukraine.
Volodymyr Zelensky had no political experience before he was elected president. He is an actor and a lawyer. (I think those are related professions, both to each other and to politics.) Today, he is a hero to Ukraine and an inspiration for the whole world.
How did he do it? It is his down-home approach and language – and that is not an act!
The Jews of Ukraine, and all Ukrainians, have become part of our edah. It is my hope that Rabbi Dukhovny’s wishes for peace, continued sovereignty and democracy will be granted soon.
AARON GINSBURG lives in Stoughton, Massachusetts and blogs at jewishnewport.blogspot.com. He helps reunite families separated over time by the Holocaust and the Soviet Union. He can be reached at email@example.com.