Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski and Garik Zylberbord had been close for years. Zylberbord was one of Vishedski’s earliest friends and supporters when the rabbi first arrived in Donetsk, Ukraine, in 1993. The two remained in close contact as the conflict in the eastern part of the country, which began back in February, burned into war and forced the rabbi to flee to Kiev just two weeks ago.
When the two men last spoke last Friday, Garik told the rabbi that he would join him in there this Wednesday, Sept. 3.
“Unfortunately, he got here before that,” says Vishedski, the exiled chief rabbi of Donetsk.
Zylberbord, 47, was shot dead in Donetsk while trying to stop pro-Russian rebels from robbing his neighbor’s home.
“He was killed on Shabbat, and his funeral was held here in Kiev on Monday,” explains the rabbi.
Vishedski has already set up a Donetsk Jewish community office in Kiev to help the lost and struggling Jews of his city who have found refuge there and in other parts of the country.
He describes Zylberbord as someone who became closer to his Judaism over the years, receiving a Jewish name (his Jewish name was Eliyahu) and attending synagogue regularly. He was also a generous financial supporter of the community.
“Much more than that, he was a very, very good friend,” laments Vishedski. “He was like a brother.”
The rabbi’s wife, Dina Vishedski, agrees: “He was like a part of our family. The funeral was very difficult. The Donetsk Jewish community is spread throughout the country, but people came from everywhere. He was a very active person and had many friends. He was a very special person. I have no words.”
Rabbi Vishedski explains that Zylberbord served as a member of the board of directors, but filled his position more than in just name. “He didn’t just give; he gave himself to the community. He was available at any time for any question, always there to help.
“This is a very big loss—for myself personally, for my family and for our entire community.”