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Ukraine, Bewailing the Loss

03/24/2022 04:15:06 PM



We continue to watch with horror the destruction unfolding in Ukraine. While the murder or suffering of any human being deserves our attention, we have particular care and concern for the Jewish communities that have been affected. Many have asked what we can do.  Our Torah portion this week, Shemini, provides some insight by reflecting how the Israelites reacted to destruction that they experienced, the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu.

Two of Aaron’s nephews were able to help in a hands on way. Since they ere not themselves priests, they are able to tend to Nadav and Avihu directly.  There are those with the skills to go and make a hands on difference. My Israeli colleague, Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, traveled to Chernivtsi, Ukraine, to help that community tend to the needs of the many refugees there, and to bring the joy of a Purim celebration to the Jews who have remained. For updates on her efforts, and those of her colleagues, you can read

On the other hand, Moses was not as helpful as he could have been. He appeared on the scene following the loss, and, not understanding the intricacies of the situation, ended up criticizing Aaron unnecessarily. Sometimes it is important for leaders to be physically present in situations of crisis, and to serve as witnesses to what we might otherwise not know.  Our community has been well-represented in this vein. Nevertheless, too many cooks can spoil the broth, and too many leaders can be a distraction from relief efforts, by making use of translators, busses, housing and food that could be used by those in need  I made a conscious decision to take the funds that we might have spent on my participation in such a trip and sending them directly to support relief efforts.

The larger community of Israelites is told to “bewail the loss.”  As a larger community, we have an opportunity and an obligation to engage in financial relief and advocacy. One area that I am watching closely is how we can best support Jewish refugees. Until recently refugees were making their way primarily to other parts of Ukraine, to front line countries like Poland, or to Israel. Our congregants have donated tens of thousands of dollars to support aid efforts helping Jewish refugees in those locations, both directly and through our congregation.

Advocacy takes many forms. This morning I participated in a breakfast meeting which brought some Jewish communal leaders together with Governor Kemp and other local officials both parties to discuss the needs of our community and the relationship between Georgia and Israel. Among the topics in the wide-ranging discussion was the possibility that refugees might be settled here in Atlanta. The Governor shared his openness to support this effort, despite the criticism he has received for encouraging other refugees to settle in our state. There is nothing we can do on that front yet, but If the opportunity arises to help resettle Jewish refugees who might reach us here in Atlanta, those efforts will undoubtedly be a high priority for our congregation.

Of course, there is an even broader scope of action, as we observe the military, diplomatic, and economic aspects of the conflict. Our impact as individuals, and even as a Jewish community is limited, in those arenas. We can have a positive attitude about the inconveniences that we weather as a result of sanctions (though I was relieved to hear that Stoli Vodka is actually not a Russian product), and we can advocate for continued resolution on the part of our leaders.

As Jews, as humans, we cannot stand idly by and watch the suffering of other human beings. Though the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters comes first, we have an obligation to care about all who suffer. The Torah teaches us that there are many ways that we can fulfill that obligation.

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784