Jews in war-torn Ukraine celebrate Purim under Russian bombing

Despite the raging war and constant shelling, Ukraine's remaining Jews celebrate the colorful festival with charity work and sweets, trying to find some solace in their faith amid tribulations
Alexandra Lukash, Itamar Eichner, Edward Doks|
With ballons in the colors of the Ukrainian national flag and just moments before a nighttime curfew takes effect, Ukraine's remaining Jews celebrated Purim under incessant Russian shelling.
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  • Chief Rabbi of Odesa and Chabad emissary in the city Rabbi Abraham Wolf told Ynet that "we will certainly celebrate Purim with the people that are left here, despite the war."
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    הרב אברהם וולף
    הרב אברהם וולף
    Chief Rabbi of Odesa and Chabad emissary in the city Rabbi Abraham Wolf
    (Photo: Courtesy of Abraham Wolf)
    "The people that remained here are entitled and should celebrate the holiday, and we will do it in the best way possible. The curfew was pushed from 7pm to 8pm so we could read the Esther Scroll. The synagogue is decorated with balloons in the colors of the Ukrainian flag, blue and yellow, we will make sure everyone will be happy as we celebrate Purim," Wolf said.
    According to Rabbi Wolf, a large part of the city's Jewish community, including orphans, has already fled to Berlin where they will celebrate the holiday with his wife.
    "All those who wished to evacuate already left Odesa. As of right now, we continue to help people evacuate, and most of them are locals, all the Israelis are already gone by now.
    Most of the time, our feelings shift between anxiety and fear as we hear alarms and explosions constantly. But we are holding up, and strengthening the community. We are preparing the masks for the holiday, and getting ready for the Purim feast."
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    מכשול נגד טנקים מבזנטים בעיר אודסה משבר מלחמה רוסיה אוקראינה
    מכשול נגד טנקים מבזנטים בעיר אודסה משבר מלחמה רוסיה אוקראינה
    The streets of Odesa littered with anti-tank obstacles
    (Photo: AFP)
    Some 600 kilometers (372 miles) north of Odesa, in the heavily bombarded Kharkiv, the remaining Jewish community tries to gather what's left. On Wednesday, their yeshiva building took a direct hit from a missile that completely decimated its premises.
    "We were bombed since the beginning of the war, and all the windows at our synagogue and school broke," said Rabbi Miriam Moskowitz. "Our old synagogue which we received 32 years ago when we just arrived also suffered a direct hit from a missile, and everything was destoryed."
    "When the missile hit the building, luckily only the guard was inside because no one has studied there since fighting broke. In our synagogue, we prepare food for the needy, and we have cars with very brave drivers who drive during shellings to provide food. We also made hamantaschen and shalach manos [a holiday parcel filled with sweets] for the holiday, but it is very difficult."
    Moskowitz's husband, Rabbi Moshe Moskowitz, a Chabad emissary and the chief rabbi of Kharkiv, said that he found it difficult to witness the unfolding events.
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    מקום הפגיעה הישירה
    מקום הפגיעה הישירה
    The yeshiva building that was hit by a missile in Kharkiv
    "Every Jewish establishment in Ukraine is a symbol of liberty, a symbol for the future, and suddenly you see a missile that falls in the yeshiva building, a place in which rabbis grew, studied, from where they were sent to all the region's countries. It's so hard, but God willing, we will come back and rebuild and even better than before."
    In Kyiv, Chabad emissary Rabbi Moshe Azman said that some 100 refugees from the northern part of the city who fled the warzone arrived at their doorstep.
    "We saved them, gave them a place to stay, and they are still here because Kyiv has been under curfew for two days now. Together we will celebrate Purim, in the hope to lift their spirits, and hoping everything will end soon."
    Rabbi Azman also invited over any Jews nearby who wish to celebrate the holiday with them once the curfew is lifted.
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    קריאת מגילה בדניפרו, אוקראינה
    קריאת מגילה בדניפרו, אוקראינה
    Esther Scroll reading in Dnipro
    "We have a massive synagogue, so there is a lot of space. The curfew is set to be lifted in the morning and we will hand out shalach manos to hundreds of old people who are grounded at home. There's a real humanitarian catastrophe here. We help with what we can, we have cars and we travel all over town to provide food and medicine."
    Other Ukrainian cities such as Zaporizhzhia, Uzhhorod, Kryvyi Rih, Zhytomyr, and cities in the West of the country, which is currently quiet, will also celebrate Purim.
    In the western city of Lviv, parishioners will read the holiday's Scroll of Esther and hold Purim parties in several locations, including synagogues and a shelter hosting Hebrew-speaking refugees and journalists from Israel.
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