Jewish Kharkov Keeps Residents Warm and Fed as Power Fails and Temps Plunge

Distributing heaters, blankets, home insulation and food in the weary city

It’s 6 p.m. and pitch-black outside as a freezing rain falls on the streets of Kharkov, Ukraine. Streetlights are out amidst one of the city’s frequent power outages. Temperatures drop by the hour, and nightfall arrives earlier each day with winter’s approach. The Jewish community and Chabad-Lubavitch of Kharkov is working to ensure that friends and neighbors have what they need to keep warm in a nation that has been in crisis since March.

“We are giving hundreds of heaters and blankets to people who need them,” said Miriam Moskovitz, who along with her husband Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, has been leading Jewish Kharkov for some 30 years. They fear a long and brutal winter ahead. “We are helping people close up their windows and renovating windows that are broken and seal cracks around windows so that houses will be as warm as possible.”

One of those they helped was Mila K., who received a heater and blankets along with a delivery of food and water. “On Sunday, the men from the synagogue finished closing the windows that broke in March when the building across the street was hit by a rocket,” said Mila. “Thank you so much for taking care of me and especially for making sure I will be warm in the months ahead.”

While they know some of the people who are in need, sometimes, it is those who don’t complain who are in the direst situation, as the Moskovitz’s son, Sholom Ber, learned recently. Sholom Ber had arrived to put a mezuzah on the home of an elderly man, but when he got there he was surprised to find the apartment very dark.

The man has not had electricity in his apartment in more than a year and a half, but he didn’t want to bother anyone about it. The Jewish community and Chabad immediately arranged for an electrician to come out to the house and restore his power. They also arranged to have a cleaner fix up the apartment.

The community is also working on boarding up windows and restoring the heat at the FJC’s Or Avner Jewish Day School. Though school is up and running, classes remain online only. The windows at the school were broken as a result of the many rockets that landed in Kharkov during the early days of the crisis.

Distributing bread to the needy.

Food Distributions Continue Daily

At the Choral Synagogue, which has been used as a shelter since the start of the situation and from which Chabad organizes its many food distributions, and thanks to the help of the JRNU (Jewish Relief Network Ukraine) generators have been set up to ensure the power remains on and they can continue their life-saving work even when the city grid goes down.

There have been other expenses as well, such as helping to cover the costs of a 40-year-old man who needed leg surgery.

In addition to sending out boxes of food to members of the Jewish community, Chabad has been giving out some 200 loaves of bread daily to people in areas that have experienced some of the worst shelling. While the bread giveaway is usually handled by volunteers, the Moskovitzes recently went to hand out loaves of bread on their own.

“It was the first time in a while that we were able to go out on the streets of the city and see the people that we were helping in this way, and it was very emotional,” said Miriam Moskovitz. “And they said they were so happy to see us.”

Jewish girls celebrate their bat mitzvah.

Reasons to Celebrate

Even with all that’s been going on, there have been reasons to celebrate in recent weeks.

Five girls who just turned 12 held a joint bat mitzvah celebration earlier this month at the Choral Synagogue during the intermediate days of Sukkot. The girls all received Jewish names and were gifted with necklaces with their Jewish names written on them.

Additionally, a concert was held at the Choral Synagogue on Hoshanah Rabbah, during the holiday of Sukkot. It was a moment, said Moskovitz, that people could just come and be together and enjoy. The event was part of Chabad of Kharkov’s Hakhel year celebrations.

The elderly in Kharkov are of particular concern.

Based on an article by Faygie Levy Holt |

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