Winter wonderland for Hanukkah in Ukraine

editor - 16 January 2018

By Anemone Rüger, Christians for Israel.. Who would want to come to Ukraine in December, I wondered, as I was packing for another flight to Kiev just before Christmas. I was not entirely wrong with my weather concerns, but that didn’t keep seven Dutch and four German participants from heading to Ukraine for this year’s last working trip to help the Jewish people there, and to learn about what they have been through.

Even an Israeli joined, daring the wind, rain and snow, just to discover that the former Czech town of Khust, the birthplace of his mother who survived Auschwitz, is today located in Western Ukraine, making for many intense and emotional moments.

After facing the country’s darkest moments at Babi Yar, a gorge where Kiev’s Jewish population was annihilated within two days in September of 1941, the group got to meet Rabbi Pinkhas Vishnetsky, who chaired the Jewish community of Donetsk for 21 years until the war started in 2014 and they had to flee with what they were able to carry. Many have gone to Israel in the meantime; others have been waiting around in the Kiev area for things to improve, being dependent on external help. A week after the visit, C4I was able to deliver 150 food parcels to refugee families in the city as a holiday treat.

While the group was still listening to Kiryll, Sasha and Ksenia, who will soon be going to Israel on a youth program from the town of Bila Tserkva, the snow started falling. By the time we reached our main destination of Vinnitsa, Ukraine was a winter wonderland.

However, the participants quickly learned that even in winter weather, you will quickly take your coat off when tackling the task of packing 2,000 food parcels at the storage facility of the main Baptist church in Vinnitsa. During the rest of the week, the group launched out to various locations throughout central Ukraine to deliver the food bags to the Jewish communities.

Rita Shweybysh, aged 82, still keeps the small Jewish community of Tulchin together. As volunteers unload the precious cargo from the van, she goes down the list of recipients, making sure the help goes to the most needy. Above that, Rita tells her own survival story for every group that comes, from the moment they were taken from their homes and sent on a 40 kilometer march to the Pechora death camp, to the moment when liberation came and she was the only one left of her family at age 8. At one point in the camp, she had made a promise to God: “If I get out of here alive, I pledge to tell my story to the world.” Today, however hard it may be to remember the horrors she has seen, she is still true to her promise.

Hanukkah is a time of miracles, a Jewish belief going back to the time when the ritual oil in the Jerusalem temple supernaturally lasted until new oil could be made, after the city was freed from Greek occupation and the temple was rededicated. And there in the Pechora forest that grew over thousands of holocaust victims, a group of Jews and Gentiles lit the first Hanukkah candle in the snow, sending a sign to the world: Am Israel Chai – Israel is alive!

Miracles happen every time a lonely Jewish heart is touched by love, be it through a food parcel, be it through a hug or a word of encouragement. Many eyes in the Jewish audience started tearing up in Mogilov-Podolski as one group member shared her family story – father born in Ukraine, deported as a German to Kasakhstan under Stalin, emigrated to Germany in the 90s… for his family to find out years after his passing that he was Jewish. A Hanukkah miracle of family roots being recovered and healed. Another team member was performing the beautiful song of “Jerusalem of Gold” during every visit we made to Jewish homes and congregations. What the group didn’t know until the last get-together was that the young lady stopped singing ten years ago. But something happened on this Ukrainian soil, and as she opened her heart to the holocaust survivors, her gift of singing came back, more beautiful than ever.

That’s what happens with every group going to Ukraine – participants come with a heart to serve the Jewish people, coming to find out that God will do something in their own lives. He is good at multi-tasking.

A Dutch-German-Israeli group is packed 2,000 food parcels with local Ukrainian volunteers at the storage hall of the Vinnitsa Baptist Church. 

Delivery of food parcels

We plan to distribute another 6,000 food parcels this winter among the poor Jewish families and Holocaust survivors in Ukraine. Please help!

One food parcel costs €10 or US $12. On behalf of the Jewish Community we thank you for your support!

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