Global Jewish Reflections | Using Torah Study to Give Back to My Ukrainian Jewish Community During the Pandemic

When the pandemic came, volunteer Valentina Limonova began recording a weekly Torah study lesson for the Jewish community of Kharkiv, Ukraine.

By Valentina Limonova - Hesed Volunteer, Kharkiv, Ukraine | January 8, 2021

Valentina Limonova poses for a photo with her husband and some of her great-grandchildren.

Global Jewish Reflections is a recurring feature highlighting the spiritual wisdom of rabbis, Jewish educators, and others from around the JDC world.

For many years, I’ve been an active member of the JDC-supported Hesed social welfare center in Kharkiv, Ukraine, where I live. As I’ve deepened my connection to the Jewish community in the last two decades, I’ve come to realize that the Torah is what animates me most.

I wanted to learn more, so I asked Hesed how I could do that and was directed to our day center, where a Jewish educator conducts an “Introduction to Shabbat” program on Fridays. I then learned about a Torah study group at the Hesed’s library, and I jumped at the chance to learn more and connect with others who cared about Jewish learning, just like me.

From time to time, I’d be invited to lead classes, but I never considered myself capable — well, not until COVID-19 came. During the pandemic, all of Hesed’s activities moved online, and when the head of the library invited me to record a weekly video on the parsha (Torah portion), something finally felt right. I said yes.

Valentina Limonova

My husband helps me, filming my words on his cell phone, and then (since I don’t have the technological skills myself), our son-in-law helps send the video to our email so that I can forward it to Hesed. As the pandemic continues, so does my work. My weekly videos are very important to me, and I hope I’m able to touch at least a little of the wisdom of the Torah with my words.

This week’s parsha of Shemot feels especially close to me. In it, the great prophet Moses renounces his divine mission five times, even saying: “Lord, send someone else instead of me.” It’s a common story — we often turn down the chance to do a good deed, not believing in our strength, or miss the chance to donate to charity, ashamed of how little we can offer.

It’s not just this parsha. The whole book of Exodus (Shemot in Hebrew) is a repetition of G-d’s order to Abraham and to all Jewish people: “Get out of your tent, out of your limitations, out of your everyday life.” I believe all of us are challenged to see G-d in every good deed and in every day.

During the pandemic, I’ve felt such a strong connection to the global Jewish community, which has suffered so many disasters in its history but which continues to survive. We need only to hold on, believe, and constantly keep the Torah’s words before us: “I hold your right hand. I will not leave you.” For me, the words of this holy text offer instruction and inspiration for my own life, and I try to share that with my community through my videos, too.

You can see lonely elderly people transform into cheerful, vibrant community members all in the course of a single Zoom session.

I’m infinitely grateful that Hesed gives me the opportunity to voice my thoughts and for the help our Jewish community and my family receives from JDC. This support makes our lives easier materially and physically, but it also helps us spiritually, as Hesed’s online programs bring light and warmth to every Jewish home in Kharkiv. It’s really amazing how you can see lonely elderly people transform into cheerful, vibrant community members all in the course of a single Zoom session.

I bow down low to everyone who makes this critical work possible. I see how old, sick, and lonely people find a second family and renewed strength and health thanks to the communication Hesed makes possible.

I want to thank all JDC donors, for they are doing noble work the whole global Jewish community and the generations to come will surely appreciate. May G-d bless them and may their goodness multiply in the world. 

Valentina Limonova, 82, is a volunteer at the JDC-supported Hesed Shaare Tikva social welfare center in Kharkiv, Ukraine. During the pandemic, she has recorded weekly Torah commentary videos for the Hesed’s Facebook page.

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