In Passover spirit, synagogue raises funds for Ukraine Jews

One local congregation is doing its part to raise money to help those affected by recent events in the Ukrainian Jewish community.

Getting ready for Passover at a religious school in Kiev photo/kiev progressive jewish center

On April 11, Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos raised more than $2,000 at a benefit Shabbat dinner that brought together 62 people from the South Bay Jewish community to enjoy traditional Russian cuisine.

“[The event] was really motivational,” said Linda Levenson, an organizer of the event along with Rabbi Melanie Aron.

The invitation was extended to members of the Russian Jewish community through social media such as Facebook, and about 15 percent of those who attended were from the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, Levenson said.

“It was a wonderful feeling of wanting to give to their brethren in Ukraine,” she added.

The impetus for the benefit was, in part, Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny speaking at Shir Hadash last December. Dukhovny is the head rabbi of the Ukrainian Progressive Jewish communities. Also, Shir Hadash has done a lot of work with the World Union of Progressive Judaism, Aron pointed out.

The upheaval in Crimea and other areas of Ukraine since Dukhovny’s visit five months ago only added to the community’s concerns.

Rabbi Ilana Baird photo/beverly friedman

Rabbi Ilana Baird, a San Jose resident who was born and raised in Chelyabinsk, Russia, spoke at the event and said while larger communities in Ukraine and Eastern Europe have support, smaller congregations in areas such as Crimea and Belarus need financial help immediately.

“There is a need to raise money because security is a big issue,” Baird told J., explaining that there has been anti-Semitic graffiti on Ukrainian synagogues. “One of the most important lessons I learned was from a Holocaust survivor: If someone is threatening your life, you need to do something about it.”

As part of the event, Levenson read two letters — one from a Boston-area rabbi about a trip she took from Jerusalem to Crimea for Passover, and another from Dukhovny that updated the current situation for Jewish communities around Ukraine.

“Thank you so much for thinking about all of us,” the rabbi’s letter, dated April 10, began. “The following is the description of the situation in Ukraine. It changes every day, and possibly today or tomorrow it will be different.”

Later in the letter, Dukhovny noted that Jewish agencies in Kiev “have sent matzah to all our congregations, including Crimea.”

The menu for the benefit dinner included stuffed cabbage and apple strudel. Tasha Lopatenko of San Francisco, who is originally from Minsk, Belarus, cooked the majority of the meal.

“The kitchen was a fascinating combination of two languages going on simultaneously. Getting everything hot and ready was kind of crazy,” Levenson said. “Many people said the smells brought back memories of parents and grandparents making the dishes.”

The majority of the money collected last week will be sent to the Kiev Progressive Jewish Center, which will use the funds for a food bank for kindergarteners and others in need, organizers said.

Abra Cohen