Chernigov, Ukraine – March 8, 1939. The dreaded knock on the door was heard in the home of the beloved Rabbi of the Jewish Community, Rabbi Mendel Schneerson. As noted in the archives of the KGB: Citizen Mendel Levkovitch Schneerson, address: Chernigov, Chekova St., 7; arrested.
His crime: A passion in tending his flock, in his mission to bring a Jewish tomorrow to the Jews of Chernigov against the odds of the Soviet propaganda machine. The official records call it ‘anti-Soviet propaganda’.
Many difficult years pass for the orphaned Jews of Chernigov; Communism, Nazism, forced assimilation. Miraculously, against all odds, 5,000 Jews survived. Jewish – as clearly stamped in their passports – but ignorant of their own Jewish traditions.
March 8, 2013. Three trucks pull up at the Chernigov Jewish Community Center. They deliver their precious cargo: 3300 pounds of Matzah – to nourish the souls and spirits of the hungry Jews of Chernigov, Ukraine.
Once, the hearts of Chernigov’s Jews were filled with fear. Today, that fear is replaced with pride and a yearning for Judaism, as Jewish souls connect to their heritage.
This year, two traditional Passover ‘Seder’ nights were held in Chernigov, filled to capacity with 150 attendees. Hanging on the wall was a purple banner, with gold letters announcing “Oshutiti Nastoyashuyu Svobodu” – Experience True Freedom!
Indeed, for the Jews of Chernigov, Passover symbolized real freedom – physical freedom from the Communist oppression, and the freedom of immersing themselves in their rich heritage.