At Home and on the Run, Ukraine Jews Celebrate Lag BaOmer

Festivities take to the streets from Odessa, Ukraine, to Chisinau, Moldova

Lag BaOmer is the holiday of Jewish unity, and its symbolism is being widely felt by the thousands of Ukrainian Jewish refugees celebrating the day in the warm embrace of their adopted Jewish communities. In Ukraine, where the Jewish population has felt an outpouring of support from the global Jewish community, including contributions via the Ukraine Jewish Relief Fund, Jews are again taking to the streets to celebrate their heritage.

The festive day—the 33rd day of the Omer count, which concludes with the holiday of Shavuot—marks the passing of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the Zohar, and also commemorates the end of a plague that felled thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva. The reason for the plague was a lack of respect for one another among the students, and so the day is marked by celebrating Jewish unity.

In the southeastern city of Kherson, dozens of community members joined Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Wolff at Chabad-Lubavitch of Kherson for a festive barbecue and traditional bonfire.

Wolff tells Chabad.org that while the severe food shortages have eased, most residents, who have been out of work for months, cannot afford basic staples. “We are still delivering food packages to hundreds, and we continue to source medication for the community,” he said. Still, tough times haven’t stopped the community coming together for joyous occasions; they’ve celebrated Purim and Passover and hope and pray that normal life returns before the upcoming holiday of Shavuot.

One hundred miles away, Wolff’s brother, Rabbi Avraham Wolff, hosted hundreds at Chabad of Odessa for a sit-down lunch and bonfire. He says the city is calm right now, though air-raid sirens continue their wails. However, Wolff says, there hasn’t been a direct hit on the city in almost two weeks. “We’re trying to return to a sense of normalcy,” he says.

Refugees Celebrate in Europe

Many members of his community, including their entire orphanage, are currently refugees in Berlin, where Wolff’s wife, Chaya, and son and daughter-in-law have joined them, helping them acclimate to their new surroundings. At the Lag BaOmer parade in Berlin, half of the 600 participants were refugees from Ukraine, according to Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel of Chabad of Berlin.

In Chisinau (Kishinev), Moldova, Chabad of Moldova put on two Lag BaOmer events—one for preschool-aged children and another for the entire community, including many Ukrainian Jews for whom Moldova was a first port-of-call. Rabbi Zushe Abelsky of Chabad of Moldova says that Jews are continuing to cross the Ukraine/Moldova border, albeit in smaller numbers than two months ago. Dozens of happy children descended on the bounce houses and paraded down the street with messages of Jewish pride on placards and signs, a welcome distraction from the trauma that many of the children experienced in their native country. At the event, two refugees who until now were borrowing tefillin each morning received their own pairs from Chabad.

In a letter today,to Chabad-Lubavitch of Moldova, Moldovan President Maia Sandu applauded them for “the dedication with which you have given your resources, time and energy to help these people—most of them women, children and the elderly. Through your magnanimity, care and openness, you have provided refugees a welcoming and warm stop in Moldova, a safe shelter in our country. We showed that we are a small country, but with a big heart.”


Based on an article by By Mendel Super | Chabad.org

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