Q&A with a Young Jewish Community Leader in Ukraine

Q&A with a Young Jewish Community Leader in Ukraine

As many Ukrainian Jews know this year, Passover will be different in 2022. We sat down with Ukrainian Jewish community leader Andy (he/him), 27, to discuss what the community and holiday will look like in the context of current events. Andy is currently working as a regional manager for a biobanking company and recently graduated from medical school. As a former Hillel leader and current resident of a Moishe House in central Kyiv, he is intimately connected to the Jewish community of Kyiv. Throughout the war, he has safely hosted events for young Jews in his shared apartment, such as Shabbat meals and programs to preserve a sense of community and act as a support-system during this very difficult time.


How are you doing right now?

I’m feeling great right now. I do volunteer work and am trying to help [others] as much as I can.

What do you do as a volunteer and community leader?

As a community leader and Moishe House resident, I help buy food and medicine for elderly members of the Jewish community who are left alone and cannot go out to the store or pharmacy. We also buy food for a kitchen that makes food for the army and are planning to go to the suburbs of Kyiv to help clean up debris.

How is the larger Jewish community of Kyiv supporting those in need this year?

The Jewish community provides funding so that we can help those in need. Often, people in need of food and medicine will turn to the community coordinators. The coordinators collect all requests and pass them on to us young leaders. We, in turn, call the person in need, go to a store or pharmacy, and buy everything they need.

Why do you feel compelled to help in these efforts?

I do it because while the army is defending us from the army of the occupant, I want to do all I can to help those in need. Everyone helps to the best of their ability.

As Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, then who am I? And if not now, then when?” As a resident [of a Moishe House] and as a citizen of Ukraine, I am aware that I am doing important things that my community needs, and this motivates me even more.

When did you have your first Passover Seder, and what have Seders looked like for you in the past?

Though my family does not celebrate Passover, I began to become interested in engaging with the Jewish community after returning from Taglit (Birthright Israel) and becoming active in Hillel in 2017. That year was my very first Seder. I found it to be very cool and interesting, but [the Seder] seemed very long. At the ceremony itself, I was responsible for telling the story of the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt and I enjoyed it because I love history very much. I distinctly remember the moment when a lot of people began gathering in the hall, at the Seder I was leading, and it was my very first Seder – it was very atmospheric.

Later, as a leader for Hillel, we would invite the entire young community to the Passover Seder, and as leaders, we oversaw the different stages of the ceremony. A week before the holiday, we also held a preparatory class for anyone in the community who wanted to learn to lead their own Seder. We empowered everyone by teaching them to tell the story of Passover and explaining the significance of all the stages of the Passover Seder.

What will Passover look like this year, as compared to years prior?

This will be the first Passover I’ll celebrate during the war. To be honest, I do not know what Passover will be like this year, especially after the footage from the suburbs of Kyiv. The situation is so unpredictable that life can end at any moment. The only thing I want right now is a peaceful sky over my head and an end to the war as soon as possible.

What do Ukrainian Jews need from the broader Jewish community this Passover?

All I can ask for is support for our country in this difficult time, whether financial, humanitarian or otherwise, because this is the struggle for the freedom of my country. I think it’s important to say that you can’t keep silent about what’s happening here.

If you would like to make a humanitarian donation for Ukraine, you can do so through the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI)Hillel International Emergency Relief Fund, and Moishe House.

 

 The Great Choral Synagogue of Kyiv,
The Great Choral Synagogue of Kyiv, also known as the Podil Synagogue or the Rozenberg Synagogue, is the oldest synagogue in Kyiv, Ukraine. It is situated in Podil, a historic neighborhood of Kyiv, and is under the leadership of Rabbi Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine.

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