Dozens of rabbis from communities in the CIS participated Monday through Wednesday (July 5-7) in the professional seminar called ‘Professional Forum for European Rabbis’, organized by the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. The purpose of the forum was to assist rabbis in acquiring tools for dealing with future challenges that constantly occur.
Since the Pandemic worldwide outbreak, the rabbis have not been able to attend conferences in person. The borders were on lockdown so leaving the community during the crisis was inconsiderable. Professional conferences have been held online, yet it was not a substitute for actual physical gatherings.
As the situation seemed to calm down, a large professional conference was held, with the chosen topic of ‘Pandemic: implications for the Jewish community in all areas – spiritual and material’. It was a rare opportunity to gather and hear first-hand about past and present ways of coping. The conference location was chosen in Odesa, Ukraine, hosted by Rabbi Avraham Wolf, Rabbi of Odesa, and Southern Ukraine.
By the time of convening, the situation had changed, and Covid19 spread once again as several countries were stringent with border permits, causing travel to be quite inconvenient. Despite this, dozens of rabbis made great efforts and arrived in-person to participate in the prestigious discussions, as did Rabbi Arie Goldberg, Director General of the RCE, Deputy Director-General of the RCE Rabbi Yosef Bainhaker, and Secretary of the Council of European Rabbi Avraham Aba Torezki. We all hope and pray that the Almighty remove the pandemic quickly till it disappears completely disappears.
Jewish Covid19 Department
The Rabbi of Odesa, Rabbi Avraham Wolf, said that as soon as pandemic broke out in Ukraine, he realized where the situation was heading, and evacuated an entire floor of one of the community buildings, thus setting up a private Covid19 ward with dozens of sophisticated beds, medical equipment and expensive medicines that were flown in specially. Baruch Hashem, it became clear that this move saved the lives of dozens of Jews from all over Ukraine who were cared for in this ward.
During a discussion about the Jewish community activities during the pandemic, Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, the rabbi of Kiev, said that “On the one hand, there is enormous grief for every Jew who passed away from the Pandemic; But on the other hand, if we look at the half-full glass, the Jewish community has grown immeasurably. I do not know how it is in other communities. For us, in Kiev this is not a phenomenon, but an unbelievable reality. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the community has grown in great measures. Many Jews, who had never been in touch with us or barely kept in touch, joined the community. Hundreds of Jews put on tefillin, some who didn’t even own a kipa. Jews put up mezuzahs on their houses and began to attend classes, became interested in keeping the Sabbath, and more.”
The rabbi of Montenegro, Rabbi Aryeh Eidelkopf, said: “The phrase ‘if the Jew does not go to the synagogue, bring the synagogue to him’ – is ancient, but during Covid19 it was more relevant than ever. We have made home visits in all the last few months to strengthen Jews, put tefillin on them, and above all take an interest in their well-being if they seek medical, and then we did everything we could to help them. Apart from that, we have indeed received quite a few inquiries from Jews with whom the connection with them has so far not been strong, and on their initiative, this connection has become stronger precisely in these days full of challenges.”
Returned to bury the mayor
The Rabbi of Vinnitsa, Rabbi Shaul Horowitz, made a six-hour journey to Odesa and on arrival received the unfortunate news that a Jewish 44-year-old mayor in his district, passed away from Covid19. He had to retrace his steps and bury him. He noted how necessary it is for the Jewish community to have proper plans to deal with the pandemic as the locals cannot be trusted.
Rabbi Yosef Amar represented the Jewish communities in France and said: “Precisely during these months we became acquainted with more and more Jews who were not in contact with the community. By nature, people seek anchor and shelter in times of distress. A person suddenly discovers that he is dealing with a disease that has no solution until the present, as the vaccines arrive. There are quite a few Jews who have found this anchor in Judaism and sought to connect with the community, and we see this every day as more and more connect to the community.”
“There are also those who have decided: This is it, the world has become chaos, no place is safe, and everything is temporary, so at least we will get to live in the Land of Israel. They want to find out about the conditions and possibilities, and we try to help them as much as possible.”
The Rabbi of Bulgaria, Rabbi Yosef Salomon, said that the level of morbidity in Bulgaria is among the lowest in the developed countries. There is no scientific explanation for this but perhaps this can account for vaccines given in Bulgaria to young children, still, there is no comparison between this present and before the pandemic. It should be noted that Rabbi Salmon also faced tragedy as his private apartment and all its contents caught fire.
Appointed Rabbi one year before the pandemic.
Rabbi Yosef Teitelbaum was appointed rabbi of the Jewish community in Khmelnitsky about a year before the outbreak of Covid19. But despite this, he managed to run his community under impossible conditions. Rabbi Teitelbaum relates: “On Purim 2020, we held a large gathering attended by 250 Jews. B.H. Although no one transmitted the virus at the event, we decided, due to the information we received, to change the activity to virtual gatherings.
In retrospect, wonderful things came from the situation. Torah lessons were provided with ease and convenience for participants, and Jews living in different cities throughout the district could also participate. The added classes continue to this day, even after we reopened the synagogue.
“The Pandemic arrived after a little over a year of activity, and it was an opportunity for us to reorganize our activities and see how we could adapt in a way that would meet the needs of the communities while strengthening bonds. We have provided physical and spiritual support. Among other things, we became a source of professional guidance. We purchased a building for the community, and we have published two magazines distributed throughout Ukraine in collaboration with the Rabbinical Centre of Europe. The RCE is a tremendous help to our community in all areas. They assisted with building the mikveh, a kindergarten, a kosher store, and a day camp for 20 of the community’s children.”
During the seminar, the rabbis heard professional lectures from experts, led by the renowned educator Rabbi Pinchas Brair, chairman of the ‘Legadel’ organization, and Rabbi Avraham Rainman, one of the top professionals in educational counseling in Israel.
Rabbi Brair dealt with several topics, including “Am I alive or an animal – discovering the ‘I’”, “When I am I what am I”, “Connecting to our inner strengths,” “Identifying the point of choice – communication with the child”, “Teenagers: Proper authority – brave friendship “, “The Shabbat table as a mirror for the family “.
Rabbi Avraham Rainman, one of the top professionals in educational counseling in Israel, addressed the topics of ‘My Covid 19 – for better or for worse’, ‘identifying the consequences of the Pandemic in the community’, ‘Methods of coping’, ‘Post Pandemic – starting over’.