A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 2.25.22

Feb 25, 2022

In this message:

  1. The war in Ukraine and the Jewish Community

  2. Environment Shabbat – TOMORROW (Guest speaker)

  3. Acosta Molina update

In many ways, it’s hard to believe that war has broken out in Europe. Most of us alive today have known nothing but calm in Europe throughout our lives (civil conflicts notwithstanding). Putin’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to upend nearly 75 years of relative post-war peace in Europe. Should the conflict spread to other countries, we could be looking at a catastrophic conflagration that might reshape the world in ways that are impossible to predict.

One constant in all of this is: it’s not likely to end well for Europe’s Jews. We have been reading stories of Holocaust survivors in the Ukraine, newly traumatized by the sounds of war, old scars reopened. An article in the LA Times reported that “Avraham Wolff, the city’s chief rabbi, got a call from a nearly 90-year-old Holocaust survivor. The man was so distressed he could barely speak. ‘He cried and cried, and I just listened to him,’ Wolff said. ‘I told him that everything is OK, the Russians are not coming to kill us, these are not Nazis.’”

Given Ukraine’s history, fear on the part of the Jewish community is not unreasonable. Ukraine has taken strides to combat its history of antisemitism (President Zelenskyy is Jewish, after all), but the country that produced the monster Khmelnytsky in the 17th century and saw one of the greatest and most brutal mass-murders of Jews prior to the Holocaust still has some reckoning to do (Ukrainian complicity in the murder of Jews during the Shoah is another story altogether). And there is little reason to believe that the invading Russian army would have any interest in protecting Jews, despite Putin’s trumped-up claims of “denazification.” So it’s understandable that, beyond the terror of war in their country shared by all Ukrainians, Ukraine’s Jews have an added layer of anxiety.

Of course, one material difference between now and, say, 1941, is the existence of the State of Israel. At times like these, the necessity of a Jewish State becomes glaringly obvious. When “Russian forces annexed the Crimean Peninsula and orchestrated an insurgency in the eastern Donbas region in 2014 that has claimed more than 14,000 lives,” Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports, “a massive wave of Ukrainian immigration to Israel followed, with 30,000 Ukrainian Jews moving to the country between 2014 and 2018.” We are likely to see a similar pattern now, perhaps at an even larger scale.

In the meantime, for those who choose to stay, or to vacate to neighboring countries while they wait to see what the future holds, lives are being upended. People are having to abandon their livelihoods, the poor are being cut off from the social services they relied upon, and the entire community is scrambling in the face of war. As members of the global Jewish community, we can support the work of the many organizations that are actively working to assist those in need, those on the move, and those who are threatened. This help comes in many forms: food and shelter, fuel, transportation to places of refuge, bureaucratic assistance for those seeking to emigrate to Israel or other points, psychological and emotional support, and many other kinds of aid.

It goes without saying that we should be concerned with everyone who is affected and displaced by this war; but we should be particularly mindful of the Jewish community who, if history is any indication, are potentially subject to an added layer of threat. If you wish to support the Jews of Ukraine (and Ukrainians in general) a simple Google search can help you decide where to donate and how to help. I list a couple of options below. This is a time when the Jewish community must stand together to support our fellow-Jews. The Talmud offers the famous dictum Kol Yisrael arevim ze ba-zeh (Shevuot 39a) “All Jews are responsible for one another,” or, to put it another way, “the fate of all Jews is one.”

Let us pray and work for an end to this truly senseless conflict. And in the meantime, let us support the many organizations that are working on the ground to bolster those whose lives are upended.

Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat,

Rabbi Sam Levine

A note on giving: it’s always a good idea to check out Charity Navigator, which evaluates nonprofits and recommends credible organizations.

Ukraine Crisis Fund through the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ)


Joint Distribution Committee:


Environment Shabbat – TOMORROW

Please join us tomorrow for Shabbat morning services as we explore themes relating to the environment. Edward J. Kopf, Ph.D, who sits on the Steering Committee of the Jewish Earth Alliance and who joined us last year for a Shabbat service, will speak on “Torah and the Tragedy of the Commons: What do we Owe Each Other?” After services, Ed will lead a discussion and take questions.

Acosta Molina update

EMJC congregants Marjorie and David Sanua met Katy and her daughters Nicol, Madai and Kathyna at the Queens Zoo this past Wednesday. The weather and company were both perfect! Highlights of the day were the chance to feed the llamas and see a pair of majestic bald eagles as well as lynxes, owls, parrots and bears. Photos are attached below.

The whole family continues to adapt well to their new life as New Yorkers. Nicol (age 8) and Madai (age 5) are healthy, active, extremely curious and enjoying school. Both girls attend a special program on Saturday mornings to continue to improve their English. They are using their new language regularly, even with each other! Adorable Baby Kathyna is now 4 months old, weighs 18 pounds, very alert and already wears 12-month size clothes.

The Acosta-Molinas continue to wait for Katy and Misael’s work permits and for their asylum hearing.  Monetary donations would still be greatly appreciated at https://gofund.me/cfefbe72 or through the EMJC website at https://emjc-832180.square.site/. Once at this site, please scroll down to “Rabbi Sam Levine Discretionary Fund” and write “Acosta-Molina” in the memo box. Any questions or material donations, please contact Marjorie Sanua at mrsanua@aol.com.

On behalf of Katy, Misael, Nicol, Madai and Kathyna, thank you so much for all your support!