Proud, Brave, Unbroken: In Ukraine, One Jewish Elder Reflects on Passover

For this JDC client in Melitopol, Ukraine, Passover is a bridge between the past and the future.

By Lyudmila - JDC Client | April 14, 2022

Passover is a time when Lyudmila – a JDC client in Melitopol, Ukraine – reminisces on her childhood and Jewish community.

Amidst the conflict in Ukraine and the ongoing pandemic, what does Passover teach us about resilience, unity, and the struggle for freedom? As an elderly JDC client living in Melitopol, Lyudmila, born in 1945, brings a powerful perspective to this question. In this reflection, Lyudmila reaches into her past — her Passover memories of family and community — to express her hopes for the future. 

What is Passover? 

It’s a holiday of freedom, spring, and matzah. It’s a holiday that reminds us of our ancestors. It`s Exodus — the Jewish people’s struggle to liberate themselves from slavery. It’s a journey through the desert, to the Red Sea — to freedom.  

Passover teaches us to honor collective memory, to know our people’s past, and to believe in the future. Most importantly, this holiday demands that we tell our children, and future generations, about the Jewish people — proud, brave, unbroken in their fight for their freedom. 

Lyudmila enjoys a JDC-supported Passover feast.

And for me, Passover is a bridge between my family’s past and the future of all life. 

I remember my childhood: the arrival of spring, the whole family preparing for Passover, cleaning house, removing chametz (leavened food), giving tzedakah (charity) to the poor, and baking matzah. I can still see my Babushka Anna crying, saying that her tears were the fork-pierced paths on matzah. 

I remember we took pictures of the children, and I can still see all of us gathered around the holiday table. The children drank grape juice while our parents broke the matzah into pieces and gave it to us … which we then gave to our friends. I can still see charoset — that sweet dish made from apples, walnuts, and honey — sitting on the table. Babushka always told us this dish was just like the clay from which the temple was built. After, our relatives gave us money for the cinema.

Years later, after regularly visiting the JDC-supported Hesed Michael social welfare center here in Melitopol, Ukraine, I’ve learned lots of new things, broadened my horizons, and gained knowledge in classes that are always held strictly according to schedule. 

These classes are, first of all, about community — meeting with the rabbi and his family. We always learn so much during these master classes. We take quizzes and celebrate the holidays. We get to see freedom of speech in action: You can ask a question, get an answer, share your experiences, and express your opinions. I appreciate all the work that JDC volunteers have put into this project — to them, I express my deepest gratitude.

Hesed Michael also supported us through the most difficult parts of the pandemic and continues to help us. They gave us financial support and maintained a wide array of social activities and classes: dance, drawing, psychological support, yoga, health seminars, and various Jewish holiday celebrations. These classes alleviated our daily stresses, made us healthier, and gave us timely information about everything. 

Today, the sunshine has returned to my window, along with the Joint’s presence. I think every Jewish person from Ukraine who took a pack of matzah with JDC’s greeting — “Happy Passover!” — is feeling the same emotions right now.

Today, the sunshine has returned to my window, along with the Joint’s presence.

In these hard times, all of Ukraine and all Jews are asking: Is this another war? How can it be? But still, I have hope that everyone on earth will find peace and safety. We need to unite and show love, kindness, and care, just as JDC and Hesed Michael have shown us all these years.  

We must remember the covenant — the promise of freedom and our gratitude to G-d — when we say “Next year in Jerusalem’” at the end of the Passover Seder. We must also remember that it took 49 days of wandering through the desert to find the Torah, which we celebrate on Shavuot.

As we look ahead to Passover, all of us hope never to hear the cannons of war again. We hope that all Jews will find peace, just as it was years ago, when we struggled out of slavery and stepped into freedom.

Lyudmila, born in 1945, is a JDC client living in Melitopol, Ukraine.

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