ODESSA, Ukraine—Last week, we awoke to the deafening sounds of barrages of shells fired for 45 minutes straight, from a Russian ship docked near the coast of the Black Sea. While some of the shells fell into the sea, others destroyed a number of homes in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods of Odessa. And yet, with all of the chaos, we will not leave, and will not let it weaken our spirit.

This week, the sky over Odessa, usually a striking turquoise, was colored black from numerous missile attacks on our refineries. The remaining members of our Jewish community walk around with faces that are black with worry, and we are doing our best to help repaint their bright smiles yet again in time for Passover—the holiday of freedom—which we all hope to celebrate this year with true freedom.

Throughout more than a month of these difficult days, we managed to evacuate almost 2,000 men, women and children from the city of Odessa and its surrounding areas. Today, we are continuing with the massive evacuation of Jews to Moldova. At this moment, as I write, I must stop and run down to the shelter, as there is another siren.

I am just returning from the shelter, sitting again in my office in our shul, while my wife and children, daughter-in-law and grandchildren are currently in a hotel in Berlin, taking care of hundreds of women and children, whom we succeeded in evacuating from Odessa. There, along with many volunteers and teachers from Israel and the United States, they ensure all of the refugees receive food and drink, and plan activities to help fill their time. Together, they’ve created a framework for them, with many engaging activities to keep them busy, giving them a brief respite from the realities of being a refugee in a foreign country with an unfamiliar language.

It may be challenging, but I am proud that we, the rabbis of Ukraine, have won. The emissaries of the Rebbe are here, saving lives in such a beautiful way.

Here in Odessa, we continue to assist and support the 8,000 elderly men and women who have stayed here in fear of leaving their homes, and provide them with food, in addition to delivering essential life-saving medications which are almost impossible to find in Ukraine. We are continuing to assist more than 20,000 members of the Jewish community who have stayed and who still need us for community life. From daily prayers, brit milot and weddings to, G‑d forbid, funerals and Jewish burials, we continue to support them.

Dear Readers! This last month, the eyes of the whole world and of the Jewish Nation in particular have seen what has happened to our Jewish brothers and sisters in Ukraine. The heart of the Jewish people is awake, and each and every one of us is supporting and helping our fellow Jews in need in the ways we can. Tens of thousands of Jews, from the Jewish communities all over Ukraine, are currently residing in places across the world—some in bombed-out cities, some in refugee camps in neighboring Europeans countries, while others have made it to the Holy Land.

Rabbi Avraham Wolff
Rabbi Avraham Wolff

My wife, who is returning to Odessa from Berlin in the coming days for the upcoming holiday, will join me here. Together, we will host a beautiful Seder, with G‑d’s help. Our family members who are currently in Berlin will celebrate Passover with the hundreds of students from our school, along with the 120 children from Chabad Odessa’s “Children’s Home” who have moved there temporarily.

One of our sons will be holding a Passover Seder with his friends for the refugees in the city of Iasi, Romania, who have currently been staying in a hotel with them for more than a month. He and his friends are caring for 60 Jews who lost both their homes and their whole lives in just one day, supporting them physically, mentally and spiritually.

Like me and my son, there are emissaries all over Ukraine and in surrounding countries, each in his own city, preparing for the upcoming Pesach holiday despite the challenges we have all been facing.

In a few short days, all of us will sit, along with the whole Jewish nation, as the children of kings around the Seder table. On this special night, we bring in our “time of freedom” and together will raise Ukrainian Jewry up high in joy. Each and every one of us will act for their sake and for the sake of all of Am Yisroel. The Rebbe taught that every fall leads to an even greater rising and that every challenge is an opportunity to reveal more Jewish light.

The lines outside of the stately Chabad synagogue.
The lines outside of the stately Chabad synagogue.

Our answer to the great darkness in our lives is to add more light. We will add extra chairsto our family Seders this year and invite to our home Jews who would have no Seder otherwise—whether it be refugees from Ukraine who have no place for Seder or even old neighbors who do not hold a Seder of their own.

Let every home of the Nation of Israel host one more Jew this year, and we will proudly hold our unity as a nation together, and receive God’s blessing as we say to G‑d “Bless us our Father, all of us as one.” Through our unity, let us merit to celebrate “next year in Jerusalem.”

Translated from the Hebrew by Kayla Rosen.

Holiday joy in a time of trouble.
Holiday joy in a time of trouble.