Politics

A Ukrainian Rabbi on Celebrating Passover in a Time of War

As Russian missiles rained down on Kyiv, Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny recorded an emotional plea from a shelter within the basement of a five-story constructing on Feb. 25. “It’s a difficult time. It’s very emotional, but I know that you’re with us and we know that always, good is overtaking evil and this is what will happen,” Dukhovny stated in a speech that may quickly unfold internationally over social media. He was broadcasting spiritual lectures to his congregation all through the ten days he spent within the basement, studying and singing Ukrainian poetry and songs with the others taking shelter there.

The 71-year-old progressive rabbi continues to be main companies this Passover, the vacation that began on April 15 and ends April 23, which commemorates the traditional Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt. But now he’s doing so from outdoors his native nation. Under regular circumstances, Dukhovny can be celebrating along with his congregation in Kyiv. This yr, he’s in Israel, the place he arrived in early March.

Read More: 5 Ukrainian Photographers on Turning Their Cameras to the War

Dukhovny comes from a household through which lots of his kin have been rabbis (his surname, he factors out, means non secular), and was raised by a Holocaust survivor—his mom was taken in by a Ukrainian household throughout World War II. Five of his relations had been killed at Babi Yar, he says. His household’s previous experiences with battle meant that he grew up with an understanding of what it means to outlive by means of a disaster. “War gives us a good lesson: how we need to cherish every hour, every minute, every day of our life, because we don’t know what will happen in a second,” he says. “But we never need to lose hope.”

Speaking to TIME, Dukhovny mirrored on the harrowing 10 days that he spent within the Kyiv basement, how Ukrainians in his group are approaching Passover, and the way he’s staying hopeful in wartime.

You gave an emotional speech whereas sheltering from airstrikes within the basement of a constructing. What was going by means of your thoughts while you determined to provide that speech? What message did you need to convey to individuals?

It was a message that we don’t need to be slaves. For us, this Passover isn’t simply an exodus from slavery to freedom. This is what the battle in Ukraine is about, as a result of we all know that the brand new pharaoh desires to enslave us and we try to be free. The Jewish instance is an effective one for how you can survive in troublesome conditions and how you can not lose hope. It was the tip of February, however spring was about to return in 4 days. And spring for Jewish individuals is all the time the season of hope, as a result of that’s when we’ve the competition of freedom. When I recall these 10 days within the basement, I keep in mind how I led companies for my congregation there. This is what is definitely the position of a rabbi: a rabbi is a trainer, a job mannequin, a psychologist.

In your speech, you spoke concerning the which means of spring. What is supplying you with and your congregation hope at this second?

At Passover Seder [the ritual Passover meal], we’ve a cup for Elijah, which is an emblem that good will prevail and overcome evil. So there may be all the time hope. This was my message in these days and nonetheless is.

You made a plea for donations in your video message. What has that cash gone towards?

The World Union for Progressive Judaism says they’ve raised round $2 million for the reason that Russian invasion in February, a part of which has gone towards serving to refugees and bringing Seder to individuals’s properties. On Seder, we all the time ask how this night time is totally different from different nights. We instructed all of our congregations to incorporate beetroot on their Passover plate as a result of essentially the most well-known Ukrainian meals is borscht—a purple beetroot soup. We distributed meals through retailers in Ukraine. This Passover is about heroism—of those that are nonetheless in Ukraine and people who have left.

How has the battle affected how Ukrainians strategy the vacation this yr—each virtually and on a non secular stage?

The synagogues within the lively battle zone are closed, and many individuals have left their cities or Ukraine altogether. But synagogues are nonetheless lively in safer areas of Ukraine. I’m specializing in schooling, and many individuals nonetheless have a secure web connection to entry my lectures.

The Passover story is in some ways about discovering a method out of a time of darkness. Does it tackle any new which means throughout this time? Has the best way you hook up with that story modified this yr?

Of course. It’s actually modified as a result of Ukraine is in a battle. You can see a lot help of Ukraine. Instead of studying the ten Plagues this yr, I proposed that we put 10 drops of wine on our plate—however every drop symbolizes one thing we would like for us and Ukraine.

This interview has been condensed and edited for readability.

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Write to Sanya Mansoor at sanya.mansoor@time.com.



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