Passover in Ukraine: A Holiday of Resilience, Unity, and Joy

Marina Y., 86, reflects on WWII, Passover, and the hope that JDC brings her year after year.

By Marina Y. - JDC Client | April 5, 2023

When Marina Y. stepped into the JDC-supported Hesed Nefesh social welfare center, she discovered the Jewish life she'd always been seeking.

Marina Y., 86, has lived a full life – she was four when WWII began, and she’s endured an evacuation to Kazakhstan, the pandemic, and for the past year, the Ukraine crisis. When her mother died, Marina discovered a vibrant Jewish community at the JDC-supported Hesed Nefesh social welfare center in Poltava, Ukraine. In this Passover reflection, Marina explores her own Jewish story, and connects the themes of Passover to the challenges we face today.

Marina Y. (right) receives matzah from her JDC homecare worker – one of over 50,000 boxes JDC delivered throughout Ukraine alone.

Whenever I hear the air-raid siren, I don’t fear for my life. I fear for my children and grandchildren. I think I’ve lived enough.

On February 24, 2022, there began a full-scale crisis. I thought it would never happen, and it was a strange, confusing time. All at once, my friends and neighbors fled to bomb shelters – except for me. I didn’t go anywhere. 

My son came to me immediately. 

“Don’t worry, mother,” he said. “We’ll stay at home.” 

And with his support, I did. I had already endured WWII, though I don’t remember it well; I was four-and-a-half when the war began and I was evacuated to Kazakhstan. 

The war was traumatic. But through it all, my family held on to Jewish life. We always celebrated Jewish holidays. On Passover, we baked matzah and enjoyed a feast. We also celebrated Rosh Hashanah and observed Yom Kippur. 

I carried those childhood memories with me decades later, when I stepped into the JDC-supported Hesed Nefesh social welfare center. 

It was 1999, and my mother had just died. With more time on my hands, I could give myself to other people. So I started volunteering, and I did that for 15 years. 

My life at Hesed was exciting – it became my second home. Volunteering helped me as much as it helped the people I served. My husband used to say to me, “Go there. You need it. It’s your life.”

Over the years, I transitioned from helping people to needing help. I grew older, my children left, my husband died, and I was alone. That’s when JDC stepped in.

It’s already been five years and my homecare and I have never parted: She’s now family. And she helps a lot, accompanying me on walks, ensuring that I eat healthy food and taking care of any other issue I might have.

Marina Y. enjoys a piece of JDC-delivered matzah.

This help is crucial. Many people here have low pensions. And without JDC, it would be difficult to survive: JDC sustains us. 

They also give us that most important thing: Jewish life. We can’t visit each other, and with kids gone and spouses deceased, many of us have no one. Through the pandemic and the current crisis, we’ve felt especially isolated.

That’s why JDC has been so vital. For instance, I’ve been enjoying this wonderful Zoom program where I get to meet Jews in Poltava, Kharkiv, Sumy – even Israel and France! We celebrate Jewish holidays, participate in entertaining programs, and just enjoy each other’s company. 

This program is now a part of my daily life. Each Friday, we celebrate Shabbat and light candles together. Then, on Saturday, we do Havdalah, lighting our candles again, embracing the new week, and praying for an end to the crisis. 

With Passover approaching, JDC is there again. They just delivered matzah to my door – as they do each year – and I opened my package with joy. 

Matzah in hand, my homecare worker and I have started cooking different dishes. My husband used to love matzah brei, so I made that for myself. I also make cakes and sometimes eat it without anything. However, I never eat matzah before Passover – it’s forbidden. But during Passover, it’s all I’ll eat for seven days.

When I eat matzah, I reflect on how the Jews stayed together at their darkest hour and found deliverance.

When I eat matzah, I remember the exodus of Jews from Egypt, their long journey. I reflect on how the Jews stayed together at their darkest hour and found deliverance. 

Everywhere it seems there’s a crisis; the world is going crazy. But today, we must do the same as the Israelites: We must get together and stay together, all of us Jews.  

I won’t see Jerusalem in this lifetime. My son has health problems and I don’t have any other relatives to travel with. 

But I thank G-d that JDC has brought me some deliverance here. 

Marina Y., 86, is a JDC client living in Poltava, Ukraine.

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