“My Heart is Filled With Love and Gratitude”

15 May 2024

Solidarity in Times of Tumult: Israeli Communities’ Passover Seders for Ukrainian Olim

Tikkun olam (repairing the world) is a tenet of Judaism that flows through its many traditions — one being the innate propensity for Jews to extend support to similarly ostracized groups. Recognizing the plight of Ukrainian Olim who share a history of persecution and displacement, as well as experiences all their own, there is an inherent understanding of the need for solidarity.

In the spirit of Pesach—a holiday steeped in themes of liberation and redemption—the Orthodox Union community and its generous donors rallied to extend a warm embrace to more than 500 Ukrainian Olim across 4 community seders in Israel.

As one donor put it, “we thought about how difficult it must have been for the Ukrainian olim to not only escape a dangerous war in one country, but on October 7th, to have found themselves right away in another war within Israel. The OU’s focus in this project, to not just help provide the Ukrainian olim with access to a kosher seder, but to give them opportunities to enjoy life, celebrate Judaism, celebrate being in Eretz Yisrael, and have some moments to escape the tragic scenarios that they have seen around them was very important to us.”

Both the rituals and symbolism of the Seder are underscored by inclusivity and freedom—messages that resonate deeply with both the Ukrainian Jewish and Israeli communities. As one attendee put it, “It felt like so many people gathered as one big family and together. This is important always and especially in these days of war. We were taken out of Egypt as one people, we were given the Torah as one people, and we were at the Seder as one people!”

The Passover Seder, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt and celebrating the journey from slavery to freedom, provided a poignant backdrop for these acts of solidarity. For many Ukrainian Olim who grapple with the trauma of displacement and lack “…the opportunity to hold a Seder with their family…” this allowed them “to have a full-fledged holiday with the large community,” as one Olah put it.

As members of the Jewish community gathered around beautifully decorated Seder tables and synagogues in Haifa, Netanya, Akko and Nahariya, there was a palpable sense of connection and camaraderie. Stories were shared, songs were sung, and prayers were offered, bridging the gap between cultures and languages with a common thread of compassion and faith.

“I finally get to feel what a great thing it is to be Jewish. After years of running away from my identity, I’m learning to fall in love with it again, and it’s thanks to the family I found in the community,” wrote one Oleh.

For the Jewish community, the Passover Seder serves as a powerful reminder of their shared history of resilience and survival—a history marked by both triumph and tragedy. It underscores the enduring values of generosity that have sustained the Jewish people throughout generations of adversity. But perhaps most importantly, the Passover Seder hosted for Ukrainian Olim by Israelis embodied a timeless message of hope— “We follow the new customs that we learned from you, and with God’s help everything will be fine, together we are stronger,” writes one Oleh. Even in the darkest of times, empathy and generosity can illuminate a path forward.

One of our generous donors expressed “Our hopes were that it helped provide them with some comfort…and with the knowledge that their Jewish brothers and sisters around the world care deeply about them. We hope they know and feel that we are here to support them, and wish them safety during this dangerous time, and that they should soon see simchot and joyous moments in their new lives in Israel.”

As we reflect on this remarkable initiative and thank those individuals and donors who made it possible, let us be inspired by the Jewish tradition of embracing the marginalized with open hearts and arms. May it serve as a beacon of hope and a reminder of our shared humanity, urging us to stand with all who are displaced, held hostage, or in need of refuge.

To learn more and get involved supporting future efforts for Ukrainian Olim and similar initiatives, contact Paul Kaplan, senior Development Officer at kaplanp@ou.org.

Written by Leah DeVito