Despite ongoing shelling and strict curfews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkov, nearly 100 people gathered in the basement-turned-shelter of the Chabad-Lubavitch Choral synagogue on Friday night to celebrate the first Passover Seder. They all slept close by where they ate, as no one was permitted to venture outside after dark, and anyone wishing to participate in the communal Seder had to sleep in the synagogue’s basement.

As the women lit candles on Friday afternoon in the synagogue’s dining room, they prayed for peace and a true exodus from suffering and exile. Then the Seder began and the text of the Haggadah, including the “Ma Nishtanah,” asking “Why is this night different?” took on special significance, participants said.

A team of workers and cooks, who have been living in the synagogue on Pushkinskaya Street since the war began, ensured that everyone in the community had hot meals, food and the medicines they needed to celebrate Passover. Despite shelling and artillery fire, drivers delivered the prepared food and Seder boxes to community members who would not be able to stay in the synagogue over the course of the holiday.

“Operation Pesach” began weeks before the actual start of the holiday, as Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, who along with his wife, Miriam, has served as co-director of Chabad of Kharkov since 1990, worked on getting over a ton of matzah, hundreds of bottles of wine and grape juice, along with kosher meat and chicken into the city despite the intense bombing for last two months.

Utilizing buses that were evacuating hundreds of people from the synagogue daily, Moskovitz arranged for them to return to the synagogue with food and medicine.

A team of workers and cooks have been living in the synagogue on Pushkinskaya Street since the war began.
A team of workers and cooks have been living in the synagogue on Pushkinskaya Street since the war began.

300 Kharkov Refugees Join for the Seder in Israel

Meanwhile, in Israel, some 300 refugees from Kharkov joined the Moskovitz family for a community Seder.

Speaking to those in attendance, Moskovitz told them that the founder of the Chassidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov, said: “ ‘Where a person’s thoughts are, that is where he is.’ Tonight,” said Moskovitz, “we are all in Kharkov.”

He went on to say, “Let us together pray for the safety of those in Kharkov and that we should next year all be in Jerusalem with the complete Redemption.”

You can support the continued work of the Jewish Community of Kharkov, here.

Click here for a prayer you can say and a list of good deeds you can do in the merit of the protection of all those in harm’s way.

Workers and volunteers ensured that everyone in the community had hot meals, food and the medicines they needed to celebrate Passover.
Workers and volunteers ensured that everyone in the community had hot meals, food and the medicines they needed to celebrate Passover.
The tables are set for the Seder.
The tables are set for the Seder.
Men pray the afternoon service before Passover.
Men pray the afternoon service before Passover.
Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz worked on getting over a ton of matzah, hundreds of bottles of wine and grape juice, along with kosher meat and chicken into the city despite the intense bombing for last two months.
Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz worked on getting over a ton of matzah, hundreds of bottles of wine and grape juice, along with kosher meat and chicken into the city despite the intense bombing for last two months.
Despite shelling and artillery fire, drivers delivered the prepared food and Seder boxes to community members who would not be able to stay in the synagogue over the course of the holiday.
Despite shelling and artillery fire, drivers delivered the prepared food and Seder boxes to community members who would not be able to stay in the synagogue over the course of the holiday.