There was major excitement last week (Dec.12) in the city of Bendery in the Transnistria region of Moldova, as head Shaliach Chabad in Molsdova , Rabbi Zusha Abelsky who has been working there for over thirty years with great dedication for the Jewish community, together with the Rabbinical Center of Europe inaugurated the 36th branch of the European Chesed Center. Rabbi Yirmiyahu Cohen, Rabbi of Paris, and member of the presidium of the RCE, and Rabbi Yosef Bainhaker, RCE Vice President, participated in the inauguration.
In the last two years, the European Chesed Center has established 26 branches under an RCE initiative. The RCE undertook to open 50 loaning centers for medical equipment in 50 different cities in Europe. The project began at the outbreak of the pandemic to provide for European Jews in need of medical equipment. Each branch offers an array medical equipment for every stage, from birth to eldercare.
Transnistria is a separate region located in the territory of the Republic of Moldova, 50 km from Chisinau. Moldova, which currently has about 2.6 million residents, has hosted over 500,000 refugees since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. About 100,000 refugees remain in Moldova and did not move on.
“The refugees here need a lot of assistance with daily needs,” says Rabbi Zusha Abelsky, the leader of Moldovan Jewry and a Chabad shaliach in the area. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have lost everything they had. They are left with the clothes they are wearing and a few other belongings. Rabbi Abelsky and other Chabad emissaries in the cities of Moldova, such as Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gotzel of Chisinau in Moldova, are busy supporting them and soliciting international aid organizations to provide assistance as well.
The European Chesed center inaugurated in the city of Bendery, Transnistria, is the first center of its kind in that region. It will provide financial and humanitarian assistance to the local Jewish community.
Transnistria is considered independent in terms of its economy and governance. About three decades ago, a difficult war took place there. Masses who lived there left the region, while the leaders insisted on remaining part of the Soviet Union despite the dismantling of the Iron Curtain.
Like all Jewish communities in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Jews of Transnistria were cut off from Jewish life. As a result, the leader of Moldovan Jewry, Rabbi Zusha Abelsky got together with Rabbi Mendy Gotzel, and they came to Transnistria every week to strengthen the Jewish foundations there. The main cities in the region are Tiraspol and Bendery. They invested a lot in the people of the Jewish community, materially and spiritually. Since last year, Rabbi Gotzel and his wife have been coming to Transnistria for every Shabbat; they hold public prayers and Shabbat meals there.
Rabbi Mendy Gotzel and his wife Leah say: “Every Shabbat over fifty Jews come to participate in prayers and meals, and on holidays several hundred come here. It is especially moving that they are coming after years of being almost completely cut off from everything related to Judaism.”
The inauguration of the European Chesed Center was attended by Rabbi Zusha Abelsky; Rabbi Menachem Axelrod, Chief Rabbi of Chisinau; Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gotzel, District Rabbi; Mr. Marik Finkelson, Chairman of the Jewish Community in Transnistria, who offered words of praise and thanks to the RCE and its representatives; Rabbi Yirmiyahu Cohen, Rabbi of Paris; and Rabbi Yosef Bainhaker, RCE Vice President.
Along with the establishment of the 26th branch of the European Chesed Center, preparations are being made in Bendery to renovate the building donated by the local municipality, where members of the Jewish community will hold Torah classes and prayers. The synagogue will be named after the Ribnitzer Rebbe, zy”a, Beit Chaim Zanvil Chabad, who lived very close to Bendery.
This is an unprecedented development in a place that has hardly seen any Jewish activity for decades. It is expected that the Chesed Center and the synagogue will bring a renewed spirit of life among the Jews there, who are interested in learning more about their heritage after fifty years of spiritual desolation.
The next day, the inauguration of the 37th branch of the European Chesed Center was held in Chisinau, Moldova, by the RCE in cooperation with Chabad Moldova. Rabbi Yirmiyahu Cohen, Rabbi of Paris, and member of the RCE presidium, and Rabbi Yosef Bainhaker, RCE Vice President, participated in the dedication of the center. The event was graced by the presence of Israel’s ambassador to the country of Moldova, Mr. Yoel Leon, and was attended by the heads of the local Jewish community. The president of the Chabad community, Mr. Simcha Bozhour; businessman Mr. Alexander Bilinkis, the CEO of Vita Company and the chairman of the Jewish community; and businessman Mr. Shabtai Hanukiev.
At the 27th branch of the European Chesed Center, members of the Jewish community can borrow a variety of medical equipment they need. The Chesed Center will also help people cope with rising gas prices, which prevents most of the country’s citizens from heating their homes properly.
Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, is also one of its largest cities. About 650,000 residents live there today, and there is an old Jewish community there. Rabbi Abelsky, the leader of Moldovan Jewry, related that “Today there are about 5,000 Jews in Moldova who are facing difficult challenges. We were privileged to have a home for them for Torah and prayer, and this is the only thing that still connects them to their roots.
“In addition, the city now has tens of thousands of refugees who arrived after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The refugees received a lot of assistance from Chabad in Moldova, including food, accommodations, and medical assistance. The new branch of the European Chesed Center will coordinate the assistance provided to those in need by Chabad throughout the cities of Moldova.”
Rabbi Yirmiyahu Cohen praised the families of Rabbis Mendel Axelrod, Mendel Gutzel and Shmuel Zalmanov, who work with tireless dedication to the Jews in the area as well as the refugees.
During his remarks, Ambassador Leon brought up the many activities of Chabad in Moldova for the tens of thousands of refugees and the local Jewish community.
Mr. Bilinkis spoke enthusiastically about the need for a charitable enterprise like the Center being inaugurated and pledged to donate additional equipment to expand the scope of assistance it can offer.
“There is no doubt that an important chesed like the one we are starting here will help us upgrade the services we provide to the refugees and local residents,” concluded Rabbi Zusha Abelsky. “I would like to take this opportunity to thank the rabbi of Chisinau, Rabbi Mendel Axelrod, who is endlessly devoted to this project.”
Rabbi Shmuel Zalmanov, who works with his wife at the Great Synagogue, the schools, and the Chabad House in the local airport, was honored putting up the mezuzah at the Chesed Center.