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Biblical understanding about Israel

August 5, 2017

Rabbi Jacobs in Ukraine (2) – Yeka Girls

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. 

‘Though I know that today is only my fourth day in Ukraine it seems like I’ve been here for weeks. I am not in the Ukraine by the way, but in Ukraine, without ‘the’. Though I don’t quite understand the logic of this, the experts have brought this to my attention. So now you know as well, dear reader of my journal. I write my entrees at night, usually between 1am and 2 am, just as I’m doing now.
This morning Koen and I left at 6.15am from our hotel in Mariupol and just now at 11.30pm we arrived in Odessa. We’ve travelled hundreds of kilometres. But we did take breaks along the way. Two and a half hours by the Black Sea! ‘That Rabbi is enjoying himself’, I can hear you think. A person needs to see beauty and good in everything as much as possible.

The chief rabbi of Djneperpetrovsk, who we met the day before yesterday, recommended that if we drive from Mariupol to Odessa, we might as well pass by Skadowk. There’s a large summer camp there with 196 girls. So we made a quick stop in that place. A beautiful area right by the Black Sea. The staff was prepared for our visit and within a few minutes we were in a room with very loud girls between six and twelve years old. All the shirts and hats said: ‘Yeka girls…a summer of hope’. Yeka is short for Yikattrimburg, the name of the city that was later called Dnjeprpetrovk, and now is called Djneper. But it wasn’t clear to us what the ‘summer of hope’ was referring to.

It all looked wonderfully festive and relaxing. After a while everyone left the dining room, because there was a program for the children. There we were, Koen and I together with the staff: Richi, Hindi and Rochi. As happy as we arrived, that’s how deeply sad we left after two hours. Three quarters of the children come from problematic families. Actually, I wish they were all from a family! A great number lives in orphanages. Others only have a mother, some have been given up for adoption. The seemingly joyful Richi, Hindi and Rochi told us the tragic stories. During the first three weeks of the camp, no visitors are allowed; this would be too painful for the children who have no one to visit them.

Take Simcha. She’s fifteen years old, so actually too old for this camp. But she’s an orphan and mentally at the level of a seven-year-old. Her name is actually Danya, but because the dances all day they call her Simcha. Simcha takes a quick glance inside and Hindi gives her a hug. And then Vika and Awraham. They are brother and sister, seven and nine years old. Their parents are no longer alive. Their father killed their mother and afterwards killed himself. Vika and Awraham were both present when this happened. Or Richa Bracha who is seven years old. When she is sad or is being bullied, she says that she misses her mom. But Richa Bracha has never known or seen her mom. Her mom was a drunk and gave her daughter to the grandparents right after she was born. But grandpa and grandma couldn’t handle this either and now she’s in an orphanage. She terribly misses the mom whom she has never seen and will never see. Then there’s Sara who was born in prison. Dysfunctional moms and unknown dads. There’s also a girl who knows that her mom has a lot of money and leads a good life. Mother was pregnant at a very young age. She kept her daughter until a well-off businessman ask her to marry him. The girl now has half-brothers and half-sisters through this new husband of her mother. The businessman really wanted to marry her mother, but the daughter from an earlier relationship was not allowed to come along. She knows that her mom, brothers and sisters are doing well, but she’s no longer part of them.

Tomorrow all the children go to the synagogue and the girls who don’t have a Jewish name yet, will get a Jewish name during the reading of the Torah. They will then use that new name. ‘We want them to be away from the awful daily life while they are with us for three weeks’, Richi explains. In this summer camp we saw the result of drinking and drugs first-hand.

Every summer they get good meals for three weeks. In the winter they also come here for ten days. They also receive clothing. They usually come with a plastic bag with hardly anything in it. But when they leave, they leave with a big bag of underwear, dresses and shoes. But what’s most important: they receive love here. The staff, all volunteers, are never allowed to yell at the children, even when they misbehave. Here they receive love and warmth. Now Koen and I really understand the words on the hats and shirts: ‘Yeka girls…a summer of hope’. 

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