Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya reflects on how her years of working in Ukraine came to an abrupt change on the morning of 24 February 2022 as Russia invaded Ukraine and what this meant – and still means – to the local and worldwide Jewish community.
I will never forget the morning of February 24th 2022.
My husband Lev woke me up saying, “You have to wake up, the war has started.”
I remember the freezing feeling of terror, the conscious decision to put all emotions aside and switch into action. There were people that needed our help.
We can’t allow ourselves to fall into despair, we have to mobilize all our resources to help those in need. Thus, Midreshet Schechter, the Jewish educational organization, turned itself into an emergency center to evacuate people, find them places to live, food to eat.
It is now February 2023 a year after, and I am consciously not saying a year after the war started…because for Ukrainian people it really started in 2014. We can say that we saved thousands of people thanks to the amazing ability of our Jewish people to unite in the face of crisis and put our divisions aside to act as one to save others. We have opened our hearts for Ukrainian Jews, providing shelter, food and safety for those in need.
This summer I ran a camp, Ramah Yahad, for Ukrainian Jewish children. I talked with my staff about that terrible day, February 24, 2022. Everyone is different, and all had different reactions. For some it was denial, and an attempt to turn it into joke (they are young counsellors don’t forget). For some despair and depression, leading to an inability to act. For others fear, fear that they couldn’t express until being there in camp away from the situation.
But what finally brought them to summer camp and allowed us even to have a conversation about the things we never talked before, even among ourselves, was the realization that we are there in this summer to make others happy, to allow our campers days of happiness, to be together as a community, to support others.
This year February 24th falls on Parashat Trumah. How symbolic!
We help Jews in Ukraine because there were so many people whose heart moves them, exactly like in the story of building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.
Giving brings more giving.
Our community in Chernivtsi – Aviv – transformed itself into a refugee center, opening its doors to Jews from other cities. Some stayed while others continued to the border and safety. Some left a donation in a Tzedakah box in the shul. As a community, they decided to use this money to build a new Aron Kodesh. An architect fleeing from Kyiv donated the architectural drawing and a new home for the holy Torah was built.
We pray that God will remain among the Jews of Ukraine, keeping them physically and spiritually safe.
The war continues and I am sure that the there are more people whose heart will be moved to support the Jews of Ukraine!
TO DO MORE, PLEASE DONATE HERE: https://schechter.edu/donate-ukraine-campaign/
Irina Gritsevskaya is the Executive Director of Midreshet Schechter. She holds an LL.B. from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an LL.M., and was ordained by the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary. A native of St. Petersburg, Rabbi Gritsevskaya made aliya as a teenager and currently lives in Tel Aviv.