In Ukraine, Lag BaOmer Was ‘the Best Day in a Year’

Crisis-weary residents turn out night and day for holiday celebrations

Based on an article by Faygie Levy Holt |

For 9-year-old Avraham Timor, who attends Kharkov’s Or Avner Jewish school and had a brit milah only a few months ago, Lag BaOmer was “the best day I’ve had since before the crisis,” as he took part in a children’s rally and barbecue at the city’s Grand Choral Synagogue.

The night before, as a cheery bonfire burned, an elderly man named Alexander watched a video of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—talking about the holiday. He then ate a barbecue dinner, and got up and danced. The smile on his face was infectious in the firelight.

“If not for the community, I would be all alone and not see anyone,” Alexander told Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, who along with his wife, Miriam, has led Chabad-Lubavitch of Kharkov for more than 30 years. “The synagogue has given me a new lease on life.”

Alexander, whose whole family left Ukraine more than a year ago when the crisis broke out, was one of the many adults who gathered at the synagogue for the Lag BaOmer evening festivities.

Across Ukraine, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries worked for weeks with the assistance of the Jewish Relief Network Ukraine (JRNU) FJC and Chabad-Lubavitch’s boots-on-the-ground network, to provide spiritually uplifting Lag BaOmer programs in Ukraine.

In Cherkassy, a small group gathered for dinner and danced around a bonfire at the home of Dov and Chani Axelrod, the Chabad emissaries there, to celebrate the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar.

Among them was David Smurov. “I came because Rabbi Shimon said, ‘Celebrate my yahrzeit,’ and Lag Ba’Omer is one of our traditional holidays. We Jewish people want to celebrate our holidays and our Judaism.”

Plans had been made for a larger group to gather at the Chabad House, but some areas near Cherkassy were placed under red alerts on Monday night, and people couldn’t leave their homes.

Women and girls march in Kharkov’s Lag BaOmer parade.

A Day Devoted to Kids

The evening festivities may have been all about the adults, but on Tuesday—Lag BaOmer day—it was the children’s time to shine.

Families in Cherkassy gathered at the Chabad House, where they marched around the grounds singing favorites like “Oseh Shalom” as the children held banners high in the air. The kids also recited the 12 pesukim (Torah verses), and men took the opportunity to put on tefillin.

Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz

“Baruch Hashem, we had a wonderful turnout,” said Chani Axelrod. “There was a lot of fun and Yiddishkeit.”

Children in Kharkov were treated to a rally inside the Choral Synagogue, where they, like the kids in Cherkassy, learned about the holiday and sang. Afterward, the children went on a special field trip to the newly reopened local zoo.

“The kids felt so normal,” said Miriam Moskovitz. “They just had a good time being together.”

A long lineup in Cherkassy, Ukraine, as people get ready for their Lag BaOmer parade to begin.

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