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Zelensky meets Jewish leaders

KIEV — Volodymyr Zelensky met with 15 Jewish soldiers and 32 Chabad rabbis on Sept. 14, a day ahead of Rosh Hashanah, marking the Jewish president of Ukraine’s first official meeting with Jewish leaders since Russia invaded in February, 2022.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky met with Ukrainian Jewish leaders on September 14 ahead of Rosh Hashanah. (Presidential Office of Ukraine)

Zelensky presented the Jewish soldiers with medals.

During the meeting, Zelensky made his latest appeal for military aid from Israel, including for its Iron Dome missile defense system, something Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly sought.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declined to supply Ukraine with Iron Dome capabilities because he fears the technology could then fall into the hands of Iran, the chief adversary of Israel and an ally of Russia.

At the meeting last week, Zelensky involved Jewish religious observance in his request for Israeli aid.

Israeli weapons, he said, would have made it easier for Ukraine to protect the tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims who are in the city of Uman for Rosh Hashanah to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a chasidic leader who lived at the turn of the 19th century.

Those pilgrims traveled to Uman despite safety warnings from both Ukraine and Israel, where many of them live.

Zelensky also broadcast a message of appreciation at the event, which was organized by the Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine, an organization led by Rabbi Meir Stambler.

“Because of you, the glorious Jewish community continues to flourish here,” Zelensky said.

“And you continue to do your part both within Ukraine and abroad, for the Jews here and for the general population.”

Ukrainian Jewish communities have been shaken by the war, as many Ukrainians fled the country or relocated to safer ground inside it once Russian troops invaded, leaving behind a population that is older and needier on average than was the case before the war.

While some Chabad rabbis, who make up the majority of Jewish clergy in the country, helped their families leave early on, all have returned.

The first new emissary couple arrived in Ukraine since the war’s onset: Rabbi Mendy and Mushky Halperin, who came with their four-month-old son Ari.

They now live in Chernivtsi, a western Ukrainian city which, due to its location, has largely been spared the war’s violence.

Before the war began, Chernivtsi was estimated to have about 2,000 Jewish residents, including many Holocaust survivors.

Since February, 2022, the city has become a refuge for Ukrainians, and the local Jewish community, too, has seen growth.

Chernivtsi’s Masorti community, which is affiliated with Conservative Judaism, saw attendance at its Shabbat services in the city roughly double as of last December.

Chabad operations in Chernivtsi have also expanded — and local emissaries expected to host 500 people for Rosh Hashanah.

The Halperin family crossed from Moldova into Chernivtsi by land on Aug. 30, weeks ahead of the holiday that began on Sept. 15.

Rabbi Halperin comes from Kfar Chabad, a village in Israel, and Mushky Halperin comes from Riga, Latvia, where her parents are Chabad emissaries.

The couple will join Rabbi Mendy and Pnina Glitzenstein, directors of the Chabad of Chernivtsi, who have been at their post since 2003.

Now past the year-and-a-half mark, the war has become a grinding reality for Ukrainians as their army and Russia’s trade narrow slivers of territory and shelling punctuates daily life at unpredictable intervals. 
 Zelensky is in the middle of another push for foreign aid, which he says is required for expelling Russia from Ukrainian territory.

“We have come a long way, this very difficult year. In the new year, I wish all of you, your families, loved ones and the people you help health and peace. Peace can only come through Ukraine’s victory,” Zelensky told the rabbis.

“Thank you for bringing this peace closer with your work, prayers, and activities together with the entire people of Ukraine, military and civilians.”




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