With Ukrainian instability growing and the value its currency dropping, Ukrainian Jewish leaders suddenly discovered they couldn’t afford enough food for their communal seders.
So they turned to their Polish neighbors for help.
Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the Long Island-born chief rabbi of Poland, received an email message last week that some Jews in Ukraine “needed help.”
Because of a growing devaluation of the Ukrainian hryvnia in the wake of the social unrest caused by Russia’s political annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the hryvnia’s buying power was cut in half. Jewish leaders in Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk learned that only half of the supplies they ordered for the seders would be delivered, said Sara Bald, whose husband, Mordechai Shlomo, is spiritual leader of Lviv’s major synagogue.
The result would be “meager” seders with “slivers” of food, Bald, a New York native who has lived two decades in Ukraine, told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview. There was too little money in the communal budget to order the extra food on short notice, and too little time to have the supplies shipped from Israel or the United States if the funds were available.
When he heard the news, Rabbi Schudrich added more than 200 pounds to his order of kosher-for-Pesach supplies — some of it donated. Within 24 hours, the perishable and non-perishable goods were on their way to Lviv; they were carried in overstuffed duffle bags by two young activists in the Warsaw Jewish community on an overnight nine-hour bus ride to Ukraine.
He estimated the value of the food in the emergency shipment at more than $1,000. The supplies were sent without charge to Ukrainian Jewry.
“It was a mitzvah” — a religious obligation to assist needy Jews properly observe the festival of freedom, Rabbi Schudrich said. The rabbi said he had a special reason for helping Ivanofrankivska — one of his late grandmothers came from the Ukrainian city where a few hundred Jews now live. Lviv’s Jewish population is about 3,000.
The ability of Polish Jewry to reach out to another Jewish community is another sign of the Jewish community’s post-communist revival and its growing self-sufficiency.
“After decades of being on the receiving end of help from other Jews, it was a good feeling to be able to help,” Rabbi Schudrich said. During the civil war in the former Yugoslavia some two decades ago, Polish Jews were able to ship some lulav-and-etrog kits to isolated Jews in Sarajevo, the rabbi said.
The supplies sent to Ukraine this week was enough for some 600 meals, Rabbi Schudrich estimated.
Bald said she and her husband would express their thanks to Polish Jewry at the community seders the couple were to lead in Lviv. “We will give our love and thanks,” she said.