The Torah refers to Passover as Chag HaAviv—the spring festival. In many places around the world, spring is beginning to make its appearance. Not in Ukraine. Here, winter is still in full force, spring a distant dream. We landed in Sumy on the Thursday before Pesach, and were greeted by a massive snowstorm, the largest in fifty years!

Shabbat arrived, and the snow was still falling steadily. We celebrated with the local Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Yechiel Levitansky, and his family. On Sunday, we were scheduled to travel to Haditch for the holiday, but the roads were unplowed and barely passable. Normally, it would be a trip of several hours, but under the circumstances, we knew it would be a lot longer. We also heard that Haditch had lost electricity due to the storm. Despite all that, we hit the road, accompanied by the Chabad Rabbi to Haditch, Rabbi Menachem Taichman. We drove at a snail’s pace, taking note of all the stalled cars and trucks as we passed them. At one point, it seemed that our van wouldn’t make it as well, but some beefy Ukrainians came to our rescue, giving us a human boost. We reached Haditch on Sunday night, and almost as soon as we entered the town, the electricity turned back on!

The next morning, the day of the Seder, we went with Rabbi Teichman to visit one of the very few local Jews—Baruch Friedman. He lives alone in a Soviet-era apartment complex. His neighbor led us to the apartment, explaining that he usually looks after Mr. Friedman. Rabbi Teichman told us that Baruch’s grandfather had been the last community rabbi in Haditch, but Baruch had grown up in the height of the Communist era, when the practice of Judaism was an offence punishable by death. Subsequently, Baruch was completely distanced from his Jewish heritage.

We entered the apartment, and Baruch, 85 and bedridden, was very excited to see us. We sat around his bed and talked, enjoying Baruch’s cheerful and lively demeanor. Eventually, we pulled out our tefillin. “What is that?” Baruch had never seen tefillin before. We briefly explained the mitzvah of tefillin to Baruch, and then helped him put them on. “Baruch, it’s your bar mitzvah!” Although somewhat confused, he continued to smile as we all sang and danced around his bed.

We took out the Seder supplies we had brought: wine, a Haggadah, and some matzah. When we showed these to Baruch, he pointed to the box and exclaimed, “That’s matzah!” Baruch then asked us if we knew about the great Jewish priest who is buried in this town. He was referring to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, whose burial place is in Haditch, but sadly was not familiar with the word Rabbi…

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, entrusted our generation with the task of reaching out with love and concern to every Jewish person, in every remote corner of the world. He taught us that each mitzvah a Jew performs stands on its own merit, and will hasten the Geulah—the final redemption. These were our thoughts as we bade farewell to Baruch, and walked out into the snowy streets of Haditch.