Rabbi Reuven Stamov: “I am in close touch with the members of my congregation in Kiev.
They are frightened, but in the meanwhile, they are safe.”
Rabbi Reuven Stamov and his wife Lena returned to Kiev today, Monday. It is a different Kiev than they left a week ago when they traveled to Israel for meetings with Schechter and Masorti Olami that were scheduled months ago.
“After Shabbat, we felt the need to go to the Kotel,” explains Lena Stamov. “We asked for G-d’s help, to give us the strength needed to lead our community through these most difficult times.
The Midreshet Yerushalayim-Masorti OlamiJewish Educational Cultural Center is in walking distance ofIndependence Square, the epicenter of the city’s recent violent upheaval. Over the last days, gun fire could be heard at the Center with smoke from the disturbances seeping into its rooms.
Two Hebrew classes- one for adults and another for children - took place last Tuesday as scheduled. Since then, the Cultural Center has not opened its doors.
“Our main goal upon our return is to transmit a feeling of normalcy. If there is the smallest chance to resume our activities, we will take that chance,” explains Rabbi Stamov. “There is strength in numbers and I know that my congregation needs to meet. Whether for prayers, learning, just talking and letting off steam, or maybe, just for that comforting hug - it is important to let them know they are not alone.”
Kehillat Masoret and the educational center were established two years ago by Rabbi Stamov, immediately following his ordination from the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in February 2012. In that time, Reuven and his wife Lena, a Jewish educator, have transformed the young community into a thriving hub of Jewish activity and learning. Up to 250 people attend the various educational offerings during a normal week, culminating in the very popular Kabbalat Shabbat program which attracts 60 people, including many families with children. Rabbi Stamov’s Shlichut in Ukraine is a joint project of Schechter and Masorti Olami.
Rabbi Stamov is hesitant to voice any political opinions mainly because the situation on the ground is so fluid. It is known however that although the opposition forces in Kiev(westernUkraine) are in favor of closer ties with the EU and Europe, many of the parties that make up the opposition are extreme nationalists, a sure recipe for anti-Semitism. “We need to support the people at this time of need, not the parties, says Lena.
Rabbi Reuven and Lena are already making plans for their annual Purim Megilla reading, whose message this year will be that more poignant. “Our Kiev bears a strong resemblance to the Shushan of yore. This year we will use Esther and Mordechai as examples of strong faith and commitment,” explains Lena.
Ukraine boasts a large and active Jewish community of nearly 200,000 Jews, with 80,000 living in and around Kiev and the rest in Odessa,Lvov and Dnepropetrosvsk. In addition to theKiev kehilla, Midreshet Yerushalayim, together with Masorti Olami, sponsors thriving family education centers in Chernowitz and Berdichev and programs in the Lyceum Day School in Kharkov. In Odessa, programming for young adults, including MILI groups, is evolving into the establishment of a full-fledged educational and cultural center.
"In a climate of instability and panic, the Jewish community is always more vulnerable," says Rabbi Stamov. "We have woken up to a new reality - one that demands not only caution, but foresight. The safety of my congregation takes top priority at this time."
Rabbi Stamov shared with us some of the security and additional needs that have arisen due to the crisis, both in Kiev and in other areas. A need exists for security cameras and entry, reinforced steel doors, security guards when activities are taking place, and more secure transportation (mini-vans or taxis) to take participants to and from activities. Currently, there are also food and basic pharmaceutical shortages.
For more information contact Eitan Cooper, firstname.lastname@example.org