Image source: Aljazeera

The Chief Rabbi of Odessa, Rabbi Avraham Wolff, has warned of an imminent humanitarian crisis.

Fundraising campaigns have been set up globally for the 350,000 strong Jewish community of Ukraine who are short of food, medical supplies and transportation. The situation is worsening daily with advancing Russian forces despatched by President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine has a rich Jewish heritage with many orthodox communities including in Odessa, Uman to Kyiv and Lviv.

Rabbi Wolff addressed the Knesset’s Constitution and Law Committee on Monday warning of a humanitarian crisis in 7-10 days. Absorption Minister Pnina Tamno-Shata participated in the meeting.

“The situation in Ukraine is very bad, some cities are worse off than others,” Rabbi Wolff explained. 

“Kyiv and Kharkiv are under fire and surrounded by the Russian army. Chabad shluchim there are in bomb shelters since Friday.” He added, “There’s no need to wait for a disaster when food and medication run out. This is the time to operate Israir to bring Israelis home and those who want to make aliyah.”

Rabbi Wolff noted that a Chabad nursing home had 50 Holocaust survivors, 120 orphans were in Chabad institutions along with 140 students. 

“I already see now from the pace the food is running out that soon we won’t be able to send food to the 8,000 Jewish adults and children in Odessa,” he stressed. 

“I speak in the names of 32 large cities in Ukraine served by 180 Chabad shlichim. A humanitarian crisis is going to occur, not today but in 7-10 days.” 

Rabbi Wolff continued, “Now is the time. There are small children who will starve if we don’t wake up in time.” 

He concluded “It isn’t only Chabad in Ukraine, it’s also Chabad in Moldova. Everyone is working together. Time is running out.”

The Chesed Fund is raising funds but a central campaign on a war-front is not possible due to the variety of needs and geographical distances between major cities. 

Campaign organisers are helping various communities.  

Rabbi Mordechai Shlomo and Rebbetzin Sara Bald noted that bombs are “raining down” in Lviv with refugees fleeing in their thousands looking for food, shelter and security.

“Our Shul is packed with multitudes of families begging for assistance, housing, nourishment and warm clothing,” they appealed. “Lviv is situated on the western side of Ukraine, making our city the destination of all communities on the run. We need to prepare thousands of portions of food around the clock, pay security guards, and provide shelter and heat.”

Equipment, medical assistance, food and rental apartments are required.

The Jewish community in Chernowitz under the leadership of Rabbi Menachem and Rebettzin Penina Glisnshtain has reached out for urgent help.

“Many have already fallen and perished,” they said. “The Jewish community is a small, close-knit where doors are always open to welcome every Jew. The situation has changed drastically, members of our community are in mortal danger. We are on the front lines, minutes away from the battlefield, we must evacuate urgently before, chas veshalom, disaster strikes.”

Chabad Rabbi in Kyiv, Rabbi Moshe Azman, spoke about the rockets, tanks, planes and gunfire. “We’re in the middle of a war,” he told media outlets. “We’re trying to save Jews from Kyiv, where they’re shooting anyone on the streets. It’s not simple to get out because it’s dangerous on the roads. It usually takes a half-hour to get here from the center of Kyiv but it now takes several hours.”

Rabbi Peretz Krohn is running a campaign to save lives in Uman. 

“The Jewish community is afraid for their lives,’ he said. “There is a huge panic in the kehillah. People want to get out as soon as possible. Buses are not running, but local citizens with private cars can rescue us and take us to the border to escape Ukraine. Women and children, entire families, we are waiting for the intense bombing to stop and then the cars will start leaving the city.”

Hatzalah Ukraine provides humanitarian and medical assistance to the Cherkasy region and victims of war regardless of religion, ethnicity or political affiliation.

The plan is to evacuate people to the border of Poland located in Livov some 900km from Uman. 

Emergency medicines, lifesaving equipment, transportations, police escort convoys, food, water and thermal blankets is being organised.

A satellite communication system including phones and Internet in case of network shutdown.

United Hatzalah’s Ukraine branch serves Uman, Odessa, and Kyiv. 

United Hatzalah’s Eli Beer, president and founder said, “We support the Ukrainian people and the Jewish communities throughout Ukraine and we are praying for their well-being. In response to the urgent need we are sending medical equipment and volunteers from Israel to help those still in Ukraine and those fleeing the country.”

Chabad’s Ukraine Jewish Releif Fund has been established to help provide assistance to Jewish communities in Ukraine impacted by the war.

For today’s Jewish communities these are worrying times. Ukraine boasts synagogues, mikvahs, kosher restaurants, Jewish schools, yeshivahs and social services. 

Ukraine’s President, Volodymr Zelensky, after winning the election in 2019 famously held a meeting with the country’s six leading Rabbonim on May 6 in Kiev.

Chabad emissaries Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki of Dnipro, Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz of Kharkov, Rabbi Wolff of Odessa, Rabbi Shlomo Wilhelm of Zhitmor and Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski of Donetsk attended. Rabbi Moshe Asman of Brodsky synagogue in Kiev was also present.

Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries have been mainstays since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

Some 35 cities throughout Ukraine are led by Chabad emissary families who reach out smaller cities, towns and villages organising Jewish holiday programs throughout the year. 

Chabad maintains Jewish orphanages in Zhitomir, a Jewish university in Odessa and the largest Jewish center in the world in Dnipro.  

Ukraine has been home to hundreds of thousands of Jews in towns and cities for centuries.

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement and Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of the Chabad movement, are amongst dozens of Chassidic masters including Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev who draw thousands of pilgrims to Ukraine annually to pay respect.

Jews globally have ancestors that fled Ukraine in the late 1800s and early 1900s. 

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, Rabbi Zalman’s seventh-generation successor, was born in 1902 in Nikolayev, Ukraine, where his grandfather served as rabbi.

The Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson was appointed Rabbi of Yekaterinoslav (Dnipro today) where he led the Jewish community for over three decades. 

The Holocaust took a mighty toll. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum prior to Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Ukraine was home to the “largest Jewish population in Europe”. Historians believe 1.5m Jews were killed during the Shoah including in Babi Yar outside Kiev where around 40,000 were murdered.