‘We did not hear any artillery in Kiev, like in Marioepol. The war was far away, but very near at the same time. We met the rabbi of Donetsk in his cultural centre in Kiev. He is born in Israël and he came with his family twenty years ago to Eastern Ukraina to serve the local Jewish Community. The community had a size of three thousand families. He worked together with ten rabbis. He really built an empire. Several synagogues, ritual baths, a school with four hundred pupils, a kindergarten of fourty, a soup kitchen, beautiful buildings in a booming town with 1,1 million inhabitants and a very rich Jewish life.
However three years ago his flowering Jewish community collapsed. Houses have been torched and the Jewish community came under heavy pressure. Despite the fact that Donetsk belongs officially to Ukraina it is in the orbit of separatists who sympathize with Russia. Because of his supposed sympathy with Ukraina he had to choose either to run or to die. He fled, and he was not the only one. Only 600.000 inhabitants of the 1.1 million people remained in a city devoid of finance, or an airport, devastated by robbery, murder and rape. He rented here in Kiev an old building to help fled Donbas Jews. Donbas is the province of wich Donetsk is the capital. Photo's of earlier former wealth hang sadly on the unpainted walls, a reminder of what once has been. In his Jewish Cultural Centre ‘Donbas-Jews’ meet each other, whilst leaving their houses empty in Donetsk. They cannot enter their town of birth anymore and if they nevertheless manage to enter the city, they cannot leave it. The province became a kind of no-man's-land where anarchy is dominant. Just several hundreds of Jews stayed in Donetsk. The were not able to leave or they just did want to. They were too old and too weak.
In better times his soup kitchen had thirty visitors every day, now they are almost 150 of the poorest among them. The poverty of the stragglers is unimaginable. The rabbi does not give up. He arranges houses, work and food for fugitives in Kiev. and he even manages to keep his school in Donetsk open from a distance. The school, with once upon a time with more than four hundred pupils has now only 26 children. The rabbi also fights for the stragglers day and and night. “They put me overboard, but I am still the captain who will leave the ship as the last one!"
I wanted to ask him whether the ship already has been sunken but I kept my mouth shut just to spare him the agony and sorrow. Every day there are casualities among the very young soldiers. Rockets are dropped in town from time to time. In the Jewish Cultural Centre of Kiev you see the agony on the faces of the people. People find comfort with each other. They have to build something new. The need housing, and money too, food and a home.... they are displaced without sense our meaning. I keep seeing their faces when I get on the plane to Amsterdam.
I am back home after a couple of hours. Koen alllows me to come back, The question just when. I ask him: “What was or is my added value?” I realize that I made new contacts between need and aid as a kind of a marriagebroker. Undoubtedly I will make more of these matches, unfortunately too often. But Koen cannot take the whole of Ukraina on his shoulders. Even he has his limits. How many more contacts can he manage? For him I am not only a middleman, but also somebody who encourages his team of volunteers and for the Jewish communities in far-away areas. Maybe he is right. But now I have to pay attention to my work in the Netherlands and to RCE, Rabbinical Center for Europe. I had to handle 2650
kilometers by car, 7 hours waiting on airports, three flights, eight speeches and 13 dramatic encounters. Am I tired? depressed? I do not think so. Satisfied? Yes, but also shocked by the unparallelled misery and limited possibilities to help. However I mainly got a feeling of gratitude that I got opportunity to give some help to the Jews in Ukraina.
– Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs travvelled in the first week of July 2017 through Ukraina to help the Jews. He kept a
Inter Provinciaal Opper Rabbinaat
Bestuursgebied IPOR: Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe, Overijssel, Gelderland, Flevoland,
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