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Chief rabbi calls for help for Holocaust survivors trapped in Ukraine

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The chief rabbi of Kyiv, Ukraine, has reached out to Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein in a plea for help for the city’s bereft Holocaust survivors to get them through Pesach.

Rabbi Yonatan Markovich and his wife, Elka, of the Kyiv Jewish Community, spoke to the chief rabbi and local rabbonim on a Zoom call a few days ago. They described the dire situation facing the elderly and infirm left behind in the city, most of them Holocaust survivors.

Markovich made a desperate plea to the South African Jewish community for help. The couple, who have served the Jewish community in Kyiv for 21 years, said their community had been “devastated” by the Russian war in Ukraine.

Goldstein is now appealing to South African Jewry to dig into their pockets to help this struggling community over Pesach.

“Rabbi Markovich asked me to appeal to our own community here in South Africa to assist them with Pesach supplies,” said Goldstein.

“Among the needy he’s assisting are more than 1 800 Holocaust survivors, this is particularly heartbreaking. It’s almost inconceivable – here are people who have endured the horrors of the Holocaust, and now decades later, in their old age, frail and infirm, they don’t have food for Pesach,” he said.

“I told him during our Zoom call that he and his wife are heroes,” Goldstein said. “They haven’t abandoned their community in its hour of need. They are looking after people in a war zone, literally saving lives. Markovich replied that they weren’t heroes, they were just doing what every person in their position would do. He was very humble.”

In a heartfelt follow-up letter to the South African Jewish community, Markovich said, “Over the past five weeks, we have seen our community completely devastated by the senseless attacks on our city. All those in our community, men, women, and children, who were fit enough to flee and save their lives had done so already. The only ones remaining are the thousands of Holocaust survivors who cannot travel due to their age and frail health, a big percentage of whom are bed-ridden and in need of constant care. Also remaining are men with only Ukrainian passports between the ages of 18 and 60 who must stay behind to fight.”

He said he and his wife had been working around the clock to provide food, medicine, and care for more than 2 000 individuals, many of them getting hot meals in their homes from volunteers who, he said, “go on bikes, on foot, and in cars, to deliver these items to keep these innocent and lonely Jewish lives alive”.

The aim is to feed these people over the week of Pesach.

“We have many more Jews in Kyiv and the surrounding towns who, unfortunately, we don’t have the capacity to feed and care for as the costs are now more than we can handle,” Markovich said.

Goldstein is hoping to raise as much as possible to help these Holocaust survivors. “Rabbi Markovich told me that $67 [R978] can buy a food package that will provide a recipient with all their needs throughout Pesach. He’s also seeking to secure contributions for their post-Pesach needs and has approached other communities around the world to assist.”

Goldstein asked the community to please “give whatever you can as every bit counts”.

“The Russian invasion has caused suffering on a massive scale. We don’t have the political power to end the war or solve the politics or stop the cruel human-rights abuses of the Russian army. But through the mitzvah of tzedakah, the power of our giving, we can help alleviate suffering on the ground,” he told the community in a letter.

Mindful of the precarious financial situation of South African Jews, he said, “There are, of course, those in our own community struggling to meet basic needs and without the means to celebrate Pesach. Our local communal welfare organisations are doing incredible work to ensure Jews don’t go hungry and uncared for during Pesach and throughout the year. Here, too, for South African Jews, we should give generously.”

Goldstein appealed to the community to “give generously, mindful of the famous declaration of compassion for the needy with which we begin the seder – ‘whoever is hungry, let them come and eat!’”

“Real individual liberty begins with being free from the shackles of hunger and poverty, and the declaration reminds us that our own freedom isn’t complete without giving it to others. Now is our opportunity to put this call into action and ensure those who are hungry and most vulnerable have what they need this Pesach.”

Rabbi Eitan Ash, one of the local rabbonim on the Zoom call with Markovich, said his shul was setting up sporting initiatives to help raise funds, such as a half Ironman race called Tri For Ukraine, where participants could do one or more of the challenges.

“It was absolutely amazing to be on the phone with Rabbi Markovich and his wife. They are truly dedicated to helping this aging community of Holocaust survivors in Kyiv. Their heartbreaking story brings the horrors of this war right into our homes, and this is one way we can help – by raising money to help feed these people over Pesach.”

Markovich said whatever the South African Jewish community did to help get food to as many people as possible, “would be a huge lifeline to these precious souls”.

“We can assure you that each one of the Jews would be most overjoyed to be able to celebrate Pesach,” he said.

“We thank you and the entire South African Jewish community for your willingness to help with this massive show of Jewish unity and love of a fellow Jew. Just imagine for a moment the relief and smiles these yidden in Ukraine will have this erev Pesach when they open their door to see a volunteer with a box full of Pesach food,” he said.

Donate to the following fund: The COS Charitable Foundation NPC; First National Bank; account number: 62942922792; branch code: 210835; Swift code: FIRNZAJJ.

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