Donetsk Jews Celebrate Sukkot

Earlier this month, the Jews of besieged Donetsk -- the city in eastern Ukraine caught in the crossfires of much of the tension and violence plaguing the former Soviet republic -- celebrated a very special Sukkot.

October 23, 2014

Earlier this month, the Jews of besieged Donetsk — the city in eastern Ukraine caught in the crossfires of much of the tension and violence plaguing the former Soviet republic — celebrated a very special Sukkot.

We received the following report from the field:

‘It wasn’t just an ordinary sukkah, set in the city. It became a holy Jewish Sukkot house installed in Donetsk under an open sky that has suffered constant shooting.

Still, the sukkah was warmed with sunlight and our hearts that protected us from bullets and banished sad thoughts. Everyone there had the same thought: ‘We’ve never had a Sukkot like this!’

With some Hesed social welfare center staff outside of the city for almost two months, some programs were temporarily paused; people grew sad, as they had grown used to Friday get-togethers, full of inspiring song and fun activities.

But the Sukkot celebration brought everyone together, even if participants did not immediately have perfect lulavs and etrogs, instead substituting the ritual objects with goods more easily obtained in this time of crisis.

‘I probably didn’t have the right to do so, but I replaced them with a willow branch, a common lemon, and some bay leaves,’ said the Hesed club leader. ‘I even, and God forgive me, changed the words of the opening blessing to say, ‘God, give peace to our homes, stop the deaths of our children and the elderly, save our lives, and we will celebrate the holidays and observe all the Jewish traditions.”

Everybody listened like never before.

One Hesed club member asked what a Russian translation of ‘Hava Nagilah’ might be, receiving ‘Let’s Rejoice!’ as an answer.

When another Hesed club member said, ‘What’s the reason for being happy?’ many around the room quickly responded that they were proud and glad to be alive and to be together again to celebrate this holiday.

It was a very moving occasion.’

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