It’s Adar, the joyous month, but some of that happiness is tempered as the turbulent situation in Ukraine worsens on a daily basis, leaving hundreds of thousands of Jews there vulnerable in more ways than one.
One of the four mitzvahs of Purim is giving donations to the poor (matanot l’evyonim). This year, the Jews of Ukraine fall into that category. In fact, say Jewish leaders there, it’s more than a mitzvah; it’s an emergency.
Chabad Rabbi Yisroel Silberstein of the Jewish Community of Chernigov, Ukraine, says “we’re living in a situation where there’s real fear in the streets—we don’t know what is going to be tomorrow. Things are very challenging right now.
“The head of the army is announcing that Ukraine now faces a full-scale invasion. Hundreds of thousands of troops are lined up at the border … tanks, planes, helicopters. There is a real fear here that in a matter of hours, they could be in our streets.”
Chernigov sits 70 kilometers from the border with Russia.
The rabbi stresses the current fiscal deprivation and lack of food, coupled with that fact that some communities are using their scarce resources to fund armed guards and to secure protection.
“We’re giving people food packages; it’s not an easy time for the people,” says Silberstein. “And so, we’re asking everyone to remember their Jewish [brethren] on the other side of the world.”
This Purim, all Jews can help the network of Chabad centers struggling right now in Ukraine. More than 170 Chabad emissary couples serve the Ukrainian Jewish population—estimated at between 350,000 to 500,000—in 32 cities and surrounding communities around the embattled country.
Maimonides, also known as “The Rambam,” writes (Hilchos Megillah, 2:16) that one should increase the amount one gives towards matanot l’evyonim, rather than to increase in food gifts (mishloach manot) or the festive meal (seudat Purim), which along with hearing the Megillah comprise the four mitzvahs of the holiday. For there is no greater joy by G‑d, he writes, than to make the hearts of the poor and unfortunate happy.
As for holiday observances in Ukraine, Silberstein notes that Chabad centers are replanning events at the last minute at more secure locations. “Purim has been going on for 3,000 years,” says the rabbi, “and G‑d willing, it won’t stop now.”