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Biblical understanding about Israel

August 3, 2017

Rabbi Jacobs in Ukraine (1) –  Mariupol

Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs travelled through Ukraine in the first week of July 2017 to help Jews in that area. He did this together with C4I Aliyah fieldworker Koen Carlier. Rabbi Jacobs kept a journal throughout his time in Ukraine. 

‘I’m in Mariupol all day. It was wonderfully intense, impressive and moving. It was very moving to meet the fit 87-year-old former teacher. Since a few weeks, this intelligent non-Jewish woman has opened her mouth. As an eleven-year-old girl she saw with her own eyes what took place in the city of Agrobaza. After walking for hours, surrounded by soldiers with dogs, they finally arrived not far from her home. She showed us where all the Jews had to put their clothes down. She heard the shooting. The screams are locked in her memory. As much as she tried, she can’t get rid of them. She showed us the large barn where the Jews had to spent the night if they didn’t ‘get their turn’ that day. Here’s a woman of almost ninety years old, nothing but sorrow, traumatized by the images burned in her mind.

The local community is working on getting the land back from the city council.And there we were, at the edge of the mass grave. Six meters wide and almost two kilometres long. Originally intended as a deep ditch to block any incoming tanks. It was given a different purpose. Seventy thousand people, all killed. Sixteen thousand of them were Jews. After the killing, their houses were plundered systematically. The young rabbi of Mariupol and the governors of the city are going to make this unthinkable history visible. There will be a memorial wall with nowhere near enough names, because most of them weren’t even registered. There will be a place to light a candle and a fence around the area, so that at least their last ‘resting place’ will never be forgotten.

After this we visited a Jewish lady of about sixty years old. I wanted to see to whom the rabbi gives the food parcels to. Is the poverty so great that a food parcel becomes a necessity? I found out. A widow who lives with her son, daughter in law and grandchild in a tiny shack. You can’t even put it on film what I’ve seen there. Even the words poverty-stricken doesn’t describe the unimaginable poverty. Mariupol is no longer accessible by airplane. No one wants to invest here, and moving here is definitely out of the question. It’s literally and figuratively right between the two conflicting parties Russia and Ukraine. Today another two soldiers have fallen. The language in Mariupol is Russian, but this city is in Ukraine. Last year it was clear that the locals sympathized with the Russians. Now, a year later, the people are almost fanatic about being part of Ukraine. Meanwhile, the synagogue is filling up. Or actually: the dining room of the synagogue is filling up. I count more than sixty people. They are nicely sitting at the table waiting for their free meal. Every day around lunch time and around six in the evening they come inside to get their meal in the soup kitchen. Mostly elderly men and women, but also young people. I don’t feel like I’m in Europe, and definitely not in the year 2017. The young rabbi is having a hard time. Today he said goodbye to an actively involved Jewish family. They fly to Israel tomorrow. Rabbi Mendel is happy, but after asking about it, it’s really mixed emotions. He has helped more than one hundred members this year with advice and finances to trade Mariupol for Israel. The likelihood that in a few years he has ruined his own Jewish community is very real. And what will he do then? Be a rabbi of a city without Jews, and focus solely on the mass grave with sixteen thousand killed members? And yet he continues.

A rabbi is primarily there for his members, and his own personal career and well-being comes secondary.
During the lecture that I was allowed to give, more than a hundred men and women were present. They longed for Judaism. Each one came up to shake my hand afterwards. All hands were warm. They radiated friendship, connection, history and future. When the new fence has become a reality and the monument is unveiled, I hope they’ll invite me. Not to be up in the front, but to cry together with the former teacher. To cry of sorrow, unanswered questions and joy. Joy, because in the end, us Jews are still here. Even in Mariupol.’

This mother and her son hope to make Aliyah soon 
 Koen Carlier (right) with a young family from Mariupol that made Aliyah on the 6th of July 2017. Their Aliyah was the result of the cooperation between local rabbis and Christians for Israel
The former teacher shows Rabbi Jacobs where more than 16.000 Jews from Mariupol had to take of their clothes before they were killed.

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