OU Kharkov Campaign to Make it Possible For Jews in Ukraine to Observe Passover Properly

02 Mar 2007


Going away for Passover is a widely accepted custom in North America, with families checking into hotels at considerable expense to enjoy their holiday in elegant surroundings.

When parents in Kharkov, Ukraine send their children away for Passover, it is to the Orthodox Union Joseph K. Miller Torah Center, where they will remain for the entire eight days of the festival. Many of these parents send their children to the Kharkov Center because they cannot afford to purchase Passover food. They know that their children will be able to observe their holiday to the fullest – including not eating chametz – under OU auspices.

The children are not alone. At Passover, more than 1,000 people of all ages come to the Kharkov Torah Center for the two seders. The observance of Passover is a high point in a year-round cycle of Jewish education that makes the OU Center a focal point of Jewish life in the Former Soviet Union.

At Passover, the OU ships thousands of tons of Kosher for Passover food from Israel. To finance these purchases, the OU once again this year is conducting a direct marketing fund-raising campaign, calling on Jews to think of their brethren in Kharkov as they make their own holiday plans.

In a letter accompanying the mail campaign, OU President Stephen J. Savitsky and Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb declare, “You won’t go hungry because of what you give. And a fellow Jew in the Ukraine won’t go hungry because of what you gave.”

Mr. Savitsky declared, “Maot chittim is the mitzvah to provide resources to make it possible for all Jews, no matter what their means, to experience a meaningful and kosher Passover. At Kharkov, once a great center of Jewish life and learning, the remnant of Jews there depend heavily on those who give Maot chittim because their own resources are so limited. I take enormous satisfaction that Passover at the Kharkov Center, in terms of its spirituality and adherence to Jewish law, is like the Passovers before the calamities of the twentieth century almost completely destroyed Jewish life.”

“Just imagine,” Mr. Savitsky continued, “a thousand Jews under one roof, haggaddot open to the same page, and the matzot and other Passover foods available in abundance. This can only happen with the help of our fellow Jews – and I know that the response, as always, will be warm and generous.”

Passover at Kharkov will follow a series of activities which brought spiritual warmth to the students during the freezing Ukraine winters. The Kharkov Center features the Sha’alvim High School, which integrates Jewish and secular studies and provides room and board for 200 students, with the faculty coming from Israel. There are summer and winter camps for youngsters, community Shabbatonim and a variety of clubs. At Chanukah, rabbis and students made the rounds, visiting other students at their homes to light Chanukah candles in the presence of their families. A winter seminar in Ternopol in Western Ukraine, a 20-hour train ride from Kharkov, strengthened the students’ connection to Judaism through prayers, Shabbat, and the observance of kashrut.

A Morning Yeshiva for university students provides six days a week of advanced Jewish learning; the “Stars” program is an extended Jewish Sunday School for college students; a Jewish Coffee Shop Saturday nights provides an opportunity for students to get together after Shabbat for discussions and entertainment; a Kharkov delegation went to Kiev for a College Students Shabbaton; and a Chasidic Shabbaton was held in Mezhibuzh, where the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism, is buried.

At Passover, however, all activities at the Kharkov Center revolve around the holiday. Checks made payable to OU Kharkov Torah Center may be sent to the Orthodox Union, 11 Broadway, New York, NY 10004. Payment by MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Discover cards may be made by phone at 212-613-8280, or by email at klatzkink@ou.org.