This is the 33rd year that we celebrate Passover in the city of Kishinev and the nearby cities of Moldova. Each year is special in its own way – but this year Passover was celebrated in a very different way than usual. With the wave of Ukrainian refugees who fled to Moldova, it was hard to talk about anything else. The message of this year’s Passover in Moldova with us was to support the refugees and instill in their hearts the hope that they too will experience miracles and succeed in rebuilding.
About twenty thousand Jewish refugees have crossed the border into Moldova from Ukraine. Most of them continued their journey to the Land of Israel or towards their desired destination. For those staying in Moldova, we held seders in two places: one at the joint medical center of Chabad and ZAKA, and another at the synagogue (which is currently undergoing renovations).
The seder at the medical center primarily served elderly refugees or those suffering from health problems, along with ZAKA and the medical staff who were treating them. It was very rewarding that Tatiana, a 100-year-old Holocaust survivor from Ukraine asked to light candles in honor of the holiday. Of course, the staff helped her light the holiday candles.
About two hundred guests sat in the synagogue hall to celebrate seder night. For some, the joy of the holiday was evident on their faces; for others, a big question mark hovers over their future as they recover from the trauma.
Ayala Shirel is a resident of Kyiv and had set a date for her upcoming wedding to Dr. Menachem Zevin in Kiev. Unfortunately, the war disrupted their plans. Menachem made it to New York and Ayala fled to Moldova. She has had no success entering the United States yet. Although she does not know what her future will look like, her spirits are strong and she is becoming a wonderful leader of the community. During the seder, Ayala mingled with the refugees and made sure that they would experience the holiday properly and joyfully.
There’s a very interesting and inspiring story that we heard from a man named Talmud. A refugee from Odessa, he had fallen into drugs and as a result his two children were taken from him. After a long rehabilitation process in Odessa and finding a job, he was reunited with his children. Then, the war began and he was forced to flee with his two children to Moldova. With incredible openness and vulnerability, he told about his past and asked that we help him find a job so that he would not fall back into his old habits. After verifying his story, we helped Talmud find a job and a purpose. He travels every day to the Moldova-Ukraine border and helps refugees who arrive independently. Since they generally have no idea where to go, he guides them in the right direction. Thank God, his family remained intact and he is a wonderful father. When he sat with his children during seder, he shed tears while reading the Haggadah. Of course, we understood why.
Refugees who preferred to celebrate the holiday themselves rather than attend seder with the community received holiday kits that included matzah, wine and everything else needed for seder. Ella Olitsky of Nikolaev is one of these refugees. She arrived with her son, Eliyahu, who is an autistic 14 year old. Eliyahu had to undergo surgery for his legs and recover in Moldova. We provided Ella and her son with a place to live for the next few months while he is recovering. To our dismay, we discovered that Eliyahu was not able to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah as a result of his health problems. Now, for the first time in his life, Eliyahu put on tefillin and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in Kishinev. As a result of his recovery, process Ella preferred to celebrate the seder in her home together with her son. The holiday kit we gave her was a perfect solution!
Thank you very much for your support. With your help, we helped hundreds of Jews on seder night and throughout Passover. Dr. Moshe Ben Avraham, a specialist in Chinese medicine and a refugee from Ukraine who joined us on seder night concluded: Rabbi, I am a doctor who helps a lot of people, but this year seder night was medicine for me as well!
Rabbi Zushe Abelsky
Director Chabad Moldova