Kharkov Welcomes Rabbi Back Home to Ukraine

In exile, Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz has been helping the community he worked to build for 30 years

After three months in exile, Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz and two of his children returned home this week to Kharkov, Ukraine, and to the Jewish community that the rabbi and his wife, Miriam, have built over the past 30 years.

“My husband has been hugged about a million times today,” said Miriam Moskovitz, speaking from Israel.

The Moskovitzes have served as co-directors of the FJC community and Chabad-Lubavitch of Kharkov, Ukraine’s second-largest city, since 1990, after the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory—gave his blessing to the young couple to move to Ukraine, at the time still the Soviet Union, to serve the Jews of Kharkov and the community at large.

That is what the rabbi, his wife and his family have done for more than 30 years, step by step building what has become a thriving Jewish community.

When the crisis in Ukraine began in late February the Moskovitzes hoped to remain in their hometown. But on March 2, the Moskovitzes made the painful decision to temporarily evacuate. They led a convoy out of Kharkov that included their own family and Jewish community members, becoming refugees, along with an estimated 14 million residents of Ukraine who were forced to flee their homes.

After a journey that took them some 28 hours, the family made it to Israel, but they never stopped helping their community members. For those who remained in Kharkov, they arranged buses to evacuate them from the city on a daily basis, returning with essential food and medicine that were then prepared in the Choral Synagogue and distributed throughout the city by staff and volunteers. Even when Kharkov was experiencing the harshest battles, holiday events, such as Passover Seders, continued unabated.

The Moskovitzes have also continued caring for the thousands of Kharkov Jews now spread throughout Europe and Israel, connecting them with services and aid in Europe and organizing massive community events in Israel.

Right Back to Work Helping Others

In recent days, the situation is enabling Rabbi Moskovitz and the older children to return. They arrived in the city on Monday night, returning to their home, which was largely intact.

“My daughter Sheina, she’s 16, and couldn’t stop crying from emotion all day,” Miriam Moskovitz told Chabad.org, noting that Sheina had been instrumental in helping the community in the early days of the crisis. “She has always been waiting—waiting for the first opportunity to go back—and we always told her when we go back, you are going back.”

Among those on hand to greet the Moskovitzes when they arrived was Luda, who has worked for the family for decades and lives in the small town of Tsirkunoy, an hour away.

For weeks after the start of the crisis, Luda’s fate had been unknown.

Last week, Andrei, a driver for the Jewish community, headed into the village with boxes of desperately needed supplies. He found Luda, in her home, safe but pale and shaky from having spent nearly two months in her basement.

Just one day later, however, Luda’s home was damaged. She was uninjured and traveled to Kharkov to be with her daughter, who lives in the city.

Hearing that the Moskovitzes were coming back, she went to the house. “Luda was very excited to be back in our house and try and get things back to [some level] of normal,” said Miriam Moskovitz.

She wasn’t the only one eager to see the family.

After hearing that the rabbi would be returning, one community member who is staying in the city of Poltava arranged to meet Rabbi Moskovitz on the highway just so he could give him a “quick hug,” while another traveled from Kiev to Kharkov on Tuesday just to put on tefillin with the rabbi.

On social-media pages and phone chats, said Miriam Moskovitz, “those who are in Ukraine, those in Israel, those in Europe, they are inspired and very excited. They see it as a sign of encouragement that things will get better. That there is still a future for our community.”

The synagogue, which the rabbi returned to and prayed in on Tuesday, continues to house people in its basement, while minyanim (prayer services) continue, as they always have, in the sanctuary.

Still to be determined is what will happen with the kindergarten and yeshivah that Jewish harkov operates. Unlike the family’s home and the synagogue—which suffered broken windows but no structural damage—those buildings were more extensively damaged.

Miriam Moskovitz said she hopes that on Shavuot, which begins June 4, people will be able to come to the synagogue and be together.

However, she added, “we are still concerned about all the community members who are all over the place.” As a result, they will continue providing classes and meetings over Zoom, including a weekly class Miriam Moskovitz gives for women.

While it will still be shown on Zoom, she said, “This week, I’ll turn it over to my husband to directly work with the people in Kharkov.”

Based on an article by Faygie Levy Holt | Chabad.org

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