A Jewish Awakening: Crisis in Ukraine pushes Jews towards faith, new leaders trained

People who did not recognize their Judaism suddenly began appearing at the synagogue, seeking spiritual reinforcement and material assistance.

Based on an article by JERUSALEM POST STAFF

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine led to a wave of departures of key figures who held managerial positions in Jewish communities across the country. In the city of Cherkasy, for example, more than fifty percent of key figures left the country due to the situation. As a result, Ukrainian Jewry began retraining the next generation of leaders through a unique seminar.

“More than fifty percent of the key figures in our community have left us and have not returned. In their place, we brought in people who were meant to fill their roles, and they needed proper training,” said Rebbetzin Chani Axelrod, Chabad emissary in the city of Cherkasy and the region in Ukraine, along with her husband Rabbi Dov Axelrod. (Rebbetzin is a title of honor for the wife of a rabbi, often involved in community leadership and support.)

Cherkasy provided a glimpse into a much broader phenomenon in many cities across Ukraine, where more and more prominent figures and key managerial personnel in Jewish communities left the country, mainly at the outbreak of the crisis, and also afterward, and had not yet returned. Rabbis, in many cases, were left alone with their families, but without the ability to continue operating the Jewish communities in the pre-crisis format.

Jewish awakening

“Since the beginning of the crisis, we witnessed an increased awakening of Jews throughout Ukraine,” said Rebbetzin Axelrod. “Even people who did not recognize their Judaism suddenly began appearing at the synagogue, seeking spiritual reinforcement and material assistance – a fact that required rabbis and emissaries to prepare more intensively to meet the growing need.”

The departure of key figures in Jewish communities from the country due to the crisis created great difficulty in responding to the increasing awakening. “The tangle caused all the rabbis and Chabad emissaries to strive to find replacement people to staff the positions – but it was not an easy task at all,” added Rebbetzin Axelrod. “The new situation also required innovative and efficient actions to meet the challenges.”

Ukrainian Jews training the next generation of leaders through a unique seminar. (credit: JNRU)

The solution to the crisis: new leaders

The Chabad Jewish network in the country, JRNU, in cooperation with the Israeli Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism Ministry, stepped in to help solve the crisis by launching a seminar to train new leaders. Community rabbis were asked to identify individuals with leadership potential within their communities, and they integrated into the new seminar, which enabled them to assist in the tasks of managing the communities.

“Community leadership is the one bearing the burden of daily leadership,” said Avi Cohen-Scali, CEO of the Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism Ministry. “The crisis in Ukraine brought Jewish communities unprecedented challenges, and as such, a stable and strong leadership cadre was required. Chabad rabbis are at the forefront of leadership in the world in general and in Ukraine in particular. It was a great honor for the State of Israel to support this important project and take part in training the existing and future leadership.”

“The State of Israel extended a helping hand and invested in leaders who would lead Jewish communities in the coming years. The training included distance learning, personal meetings, and the development of necessary technological skills at this time.”

So far, more than 125 had registered. “This is a must-attend program for any thriving community,” updated Rebbetzin Kaminetzky, who worked together with her husband Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky in the city of Dnipro in Ukraine.

“Throughout the past two difficult years in Ukraine,” concluded the Minister of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism, Amichai Chikli, “we repeatedly saw the great dedication of the rabbis to maintaining Jewish communities, and we understood that they are the most significant force in sustaining, preserving, and developing these important Jewish enclaves. The new program was designed to provide real and practical tools for continuing their important mission.”


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