• New olim are accommodated in a sports hall in Kishenev (Moldova). | Photo: Svetlana Soroka

The Dutch Chief Rabbi Jacobs in Ukraine (3)

Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs - 25 March 2022

After 270 kilometers and a three-and-a-half-hour drive through Moldova, we arrive in Kishenev, the capital of Moldova. From there, The Jewish Agency takes over. Some refugees will leave that same night, others tomorrow or the day after. The new olim are welcomed in a large sports hall, where Israeli paramedics and doctors assist the exhausted refugees if needed. We say goodbye to Faine (the woman on the stretcher), to Michael (the old man with the four bags and the Russian passport) and to all the other olim.

We sing a song in Hebrew, and apparently do so with such enthusiasm that all the paramedics hastily grabb their cell phones to take pictures. A moment of joy amidst a horrific war. Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish people live and survive. It might be possible that, after centuries and centuries, Jewish life in Ukraine will end. Unfortunately? I think of the hundreds of mass graves from World War II, of Babyn Yar, of the mass grave in Mariupol, 10 meters wide and 11.5 kilometers long.

Israeli paramedics and doctors are looking after the refugees. | Photo: Svetlana Soroka

Michael gives me his phone and I have his daughter on the line who speaks Hebrew. She is in Leningrad, where my wife’s grandparents have been killed by hunger and exhaustion. We also spoke to Mendel Cohen, the rabbi of Mariupol, on the phone several times today. He and the rabbi of Zaporozhe are working non-stop to rescue members of their communities. The efforts of Koen and his team are needed to pick up Jewish refugees who have no way to go. Financial support is requested from Frank and Roger van Oordt (Christians for Israel).

Rabbi Cohen urgently advised us to visit Rabbi Rachamim in Kishenev, an enthusiastic young rabbi. From the first day the refugees came to Moldova, he was at the forefront to offer help. Transportation from the border, organizing documents, hotel rooms and kosher meals. He arranges it all, together with his wife. There is a tent with food in front of the synagogue, and it’s open 24/7. The rabbi has also rented a hotel for a month at a rate of one thousand euros a day. ‘The refugees need to be able to feel comfortable. We also make sure they get extra good meals. If they feel good physically, it also affects their spiritual situation’, Rabbi Rachamim explains as a sort of excuse for the high-quality meal we are all offered. Roger and Koen, I suspect, have already made their decision. This young enthusiastic rabbi should become a partner in helping Jewish refugees on their way to Israel.

From the first day the refugees came to Moldova, he was at the forefront to offer help.

After three hours of driving, we arrive at the location where we will spend the night. I have no idea where we are, just know that we are still in Moldova. This place is closer to the airport in Romania, from where we will fly to Vienna and Amsterdam tomorrow.

It is almost midnight. Bedtime! I still have to say the evening prayer, check my e-mails and physically prepare myself for the return trip tomorrow. The four men from Urk were with us all day to drive the vans and are now back at the border village to take care of new refugees. The work continues. No one knows how the war will end, or if, and when it will end. But whatever the outcome will be, there have already been thousands of casualties. And many more have been mentally damaged.

The photographer who is with us all the time lives in Kiev. She’s Jewish, able to flee, but doesn’t even think about leaving Kiev. She has a job there, a family that doesn’t want to leave and she doesn’t want to leave her beloved Kiev. That too is an approach. Whether I also have that approach? It is easy for me to judge from the Netherlands, but I do think that Israel is the best place for the Jewish people. Koen and I had a discussion. If the man can’t leave Ukraine because he is liable to military service, should he or shouldn’t he let his wife and children flee? Koen was clear: the husband/father should send his wife and children away to safety. Koen wanted to hear my opinion. But I don’t have an opinion on this. I just don’t know, because – thank G’d – I’m not in that situation and hope I never have to face this horrible choice.


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