On Saturday night, Motzi Shabbat (after Shabbat), I will be boarding a plane to fly to the Ukrainian/Polish border to assist refugees who are in desperate need of a help. I am travelling with a small group of Rabbis from New York City and Westchester to bring medical supplies, aid and hope to the nearly 2 million people whose lives have been violently upended by the largest war in Europe since World War II and the Holocaust. I am grateful to the UJA Federation of New York for supporting our mission.
Since even before the war began, I have been in daily contact with family and friends caught up in this bloody tragedy. I have made plans to meet up with Rabbi Julia Gris, a former member of my congregation in Kyiv, who has been the Rabbi of the Reform Synagogue of Odessa for the past 8 years. Julia was born in Russia and is a Russian citizen, but has lived in Ukraine for 22 years. Her identity is a blend of being a Russian, and a Ukrainian and a Jew. When the war began her congregants told her that if the Russians don’t kill her, the Ukrainians might because she is Russian. Last week she fled with her teenage daughter to Warsaw and is living in a refugee center. God willing, we will meet in a few days.
My cousins from Kyiv; Yuri, Natalie, Karina and Max have been on the run for two weeks now. We communicate by smart phone. They are sleeping in a different basement each night relying on the good will of strangers while trying to stay away from armies. They have the impossible ethical dilemma to split up the family and send their mothers, wives and daughters to Poland, or to stay together as a family in a Ukraine at war. Yesterday, they asked if I would write a letter of invitation to help them get a visa to the USA. I did it immediately.
How much of a difference can a small group of Rabbis really make? I am not sure. But if I can help one hungry person have a meal, or help one sick person get medicine, at least for those individuals maybe they will have a little more life and a little more hope. This is the mitzvah. Pirke Avot (the tractate on ethics in the Talmud), teaches “Lo Alecha Hamlacha ligmor,” which means “Even if the task is enormous and you can not complete it, you still must do whatever you can to help. What we think might be small and insignificant, could be enormous and significant in the eyes of another.”
While I am at the Ukrainian border I hope to be in touch with the congregation (logistics permitting) so that you can join me and see for yourselves what is really going on. Please watch for an email with details when to join a zoom on Monday or Tuesday, likely in the early morning EST which would be afternoon in Europe.
This coming week is Purim. We thought Haman was a distant memory. Instead we are reminded that every generation has its Haman. May we all find the bravery to do the right thing. We need to stand firm against evil and insist our leaders take appropriate actions. Elie Wiesel said “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
I will return to New York in time for Purim, Wednesday night. I hope you will join us at the Temple for our Purim holiday celebrating life and triumph over evil. I look forward to seeing you then.
Rabbi David Wilfond