Midreshet Schechter Provides Spiritual Warmth with Hanukkah Care Packages to Ukraine


Warmth can be hard to find in the cold, bleak Ukrainian winter. However, Midreshet Schechter found the way to provide spiritual warmth and real heat to Jews and non-Jews in Ukraine.

Midreshet Schechter, alongside long-time partner Masorti Olami, developed, organized and successfully implemented an aid program for this year’s Hanukkah – the first since Russia’s invasion of the county on February 24th, 2022. The program brought care packages comprising clothing, bedding and religious articles to our communities throughout the war-torn country.

Operating creatively and with panache, items ranging from Hanukkiot and Hanukkah candles, dreidels, chocolates and kippot to warm sweatshirts and blankets, reached our congregations in Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv and Chernivtsi. Hundreds of families as well as singles, soldiers and youth benefitted from these items.

Hanukka Care Packages Waiting for Delivery

During December, the items were purchased and produced not only in Israel but also directly from suppliers in Ukraine.

According to Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, director of Midreshet Schechter, “We were excited and yet apprehensive about ordering products from Ukraine. The local suppliers wanted our business but everyone was worried that rolling blackouts or an errant missile might ruin their business and our orders. Fortunately, the suppliers were able to work within the confines of their electricity and our courier system worked to get the products from the factory floor to families.”

Among those who received the winter or holiday kits were congregational members including youth counselors drafted into Ukraine’s armed forces. One of them sent a picture of the Hanukkiah lit on a sparse table in a bunker bringing light and whatever joy could be found to the soldier and his comrades as they fought on the Bakhmut front – where some of the fiercest fighting occurred in late December 2022.

Midreshet Schechter Candles Lighting Bunker in Bakhmut front, Ukraine

In addition to the ‘winter-Hanukkah’ kits, Midreshet Schechter and Masorti Olami also purchased and delivered a number of generators to our congregations in Ukraine. The generators can produce consistent electricity for heating buildings thereby allowing communities to congregate in their community centers. Despite ongoing power outages and a myriad of other infrastructure issues, Rabbi Gritsevskaya noted the generators provide the centers with working electricity making it possible for these communities to come and meet each other in a peaceful place.

Generator in Ukraine

Thanks to Midreshet Schechter’s efforts, Chernivtsi’s Kehillat Aviv community joined together to light Hanukkah candles. According to the community’s leader, Lev Kleiman, the communal candle-lighting had not been done previously. This year, he added, the Jews in his city understood better than ever the holiday’s symbolism as they warded off the winter and the darkness.

Kleiman says he does not know how many Jews currently reside in Chernivtsi. The city, located in western Ukraine not from the Romanian border, has been serving as a refugee center for tens of thousands of displaced Ukrainians and thousands of Jews. Since February 2022, he has turned the synagogue into a refugee center – and readily admits that he has lost count of how many thousands of people – Jews and non-Jews – the community has assisted.

However, he has not forgotten one person, in particular, an architect who was so appreciative for the community’s assistance that he designed them a new Aron Kodesh.

New Aron Kodesh in Chernovitz’ Kehillat Aviv with Lev Kleiman

According to Rabbi Gritsevskaya, all of these aid efforts are the direct result of the philanthropic giving of the Jewish communities outside of Ukraine.

“We have used close to US $700,000 to help our co-religionists survive,” she states. “Funds have come from institutions and communities far and wide in North America and Europe as well as from single individuals. Some of our most memorable donations arrived from children celebrating their bnai mitzvah. These soon to be adults, sent in monies they accumulated at their bnai mitzvah and this really warms my heart.”

“The outpouring of love and interest really proves ‘Kol Yisrael Areyvim ze le ze’ (All Israel is responsible for one other). This is what we teach at Camp Rama Yachad in Ukraine and this is what we believe. It is the most amazing testament to our faith and our love for fellow Jews when Jews around the world come to the aid of others,” posits Rabbi Gritsevskaya.

As the Camp Rama Yachad team begins focusing on the summer of 2023, Gritsevskaya and her staff hope for better conditions and swift lessening of the current war. “We are prepared for the worst, but are hoping for something better. Some of my staff are currently fighting on the front and I really want them to be safe, healthy and join us again next summer,” she says.

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