After weeks and months of threats, escalation, and ultimately unsuccessful diplomacy, Russia has finally invaded Ukraine. In truth, this is not the beginning of a war, but perhaps the conclusion of one that began 8 years ago when Russia seized Crimea and supported separatists who formed breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine after the overthrown of a pro-Russian government in Kyiv.
I happened to be in Israel during the Maidan revolution in February 2014 as Ukraine descended into chaos. I was there on a rabbinic mission and attended a session with representatives of the Conservative movement. It just so happened that visiting Israel at the time was Rabbi Reuven Stamov and his wife Lena, the leaders of Kehillat Masoret Kyiv, the Conservative community in the Ukrainian capital. The community existed for years without a rabbi as an educational center, but since Rabbi Stamov and his wife arrived in 2012, it is now flourishing as a true synagogue. In fact, they kept outgrowing their space until a few months ago when they moved into a permanent home.
Back in 2014, the couple gave us an update on what was happening with the political troubles in Ukraine, and in the course of their story they said that they were in need of a megillah scroll for Purim. Two other rabbis and I committed to split the cost of getting a Megillat Esther to this community so that they could fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the story of our people’s redemption on Purim. Fortunately, since we were in Israel, we easily purchased the scroll and got into Rabbi Stamov’s hands within a day. He and his wife then returned to Kyiv with the megillah.
The Jewish community in Ukraine is once again under threat from the Russian invasion. According to the latest statement from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Rabbi and Lena Stamov are in the western Ukrainian city of Chernivtsi, where they hope to retreat with other members of the community. They are in need of support, so if you can, please donate to the Masorti Emergency Campaign.
Unfortunately, I have not kept in touch with Rabbi Stamov since that one meeting in Jerusalem in 2014, although I have followed the Ukrainian Masorti community from afar. We are only a few short weeks away from Purim, that joyous celebration of survival in the face of annihilation. I don’t know where Rabbi Stamov’s community will be able to observe the holiday, but I hope they have with them the megillah we gave them 8 years ago. May the redemption it describes come to the Jews of Ukraine as they face this dark hour.