Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, director of Midreshet Yerushalayim in Ukraine and the Midreshet Schechter batei midrash, shares how communities scattered across geographic distance can still draw close to one another through study and mutual support.
The third book of the Torah, Vayikra (Leviticus), starts with an enigma: there is a small alef in the world vayikra. If you remove the alef you get the word vayikar. What is the difference between the two? Vayikar has the same root as the Hebrew word mikre, something that happens by chance, something that we have control over. Vayikra has the same root as the Hebrew word mikra, calling, revelation. The border between the two is thin, one small alef. The current crisis was a calling for us at Midreshet Schechter, the network of batei midrash and study groups throughout Israel. We turned most of our groups in Midreshet into on-line learning communities, allowing people to get out of their confinement, to connect to others and to share their pain. New opportunities were opened: our participants could “visit” other groups: participants from Ofakim could visit Carmiel, and vice versa. To make it through the pandemic we need to know that even when we are alone physically, we are not alone spiritually and emotionally.
The Midreshet Yerushalayim communities in five different cities in Ukraine: Kiev, Odessa, Chernvtsi, Berdichev, and the newly opened Kharkov community, could have their Kabbalat Shabbat and Havdala together! They were united under the leadership of Rabbi Reuven Stamov. Additionally, former members of the communities who immigrated to Israel could join and come to “visit” their friends and family for Kabbalat Shabbat on-line.
Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin, and Prof. Doron Bar gave lectures to the communities on preparations for Passover. Kol Israel Arevim ze le ze – all Jews are responsible for one another — is the refrain that many members of our communities have relied upon. They feel that they are more united than ever. As with any crisis, there has been an outpouring of good deeds. The younger members of our communities protect the older members by bringing groceries to their houses.
We will emerge from this stronger and closer to each other as well as to Jews outside Ukraine.