The city of Lviv in northwestern Ukraine—formerly known as Lwów, Lemberg, or, to Jews, Lemberik—was once the regional capital of eastern Galicia and a major center of Jewish life. Built in 1582 by an Italian Christian architect, its elegant Golden Rose (Turei Zahav) synagogue was desecrated and partially destroyed by the Nazis, and then repurposed as a warehouse by the Soviets. But it was used once again Wednesday evening, on the holiday of Purim, to read the scroll of Esther. Carrie Keller-Lynn writes:
Meylakh Sheykhet, the lay leader of the Turei Zehav community, opened a heavy wooden door and beckoned me inside. He was rushing, because although the book of Esther—or megillah—should be read at sundown, his community moved its reading to the late afternoon, “because everyone wants to get home before curfew” at 10 p.m., he said.
The few congregants’ current sanctuary is the former entryway of the synagogue, to which they affixed a wall to create a sealed space. It’s now stuffed with prayer books and Judaica, as well as mattresses and boxes of clothing donated for Ukrainian refugees, about a dozen of whom sleep in the prayer space every evening.
On Wednesday evening, his community boasted five members, who were guarded by two security staff. “We’re here all the time,” one said. Turei Zahav has taken its hits as much from assimilation and immigration to Israel as it has from COVID-19 and, now, the war. Before the pandemic, Turei Zehav boasted “four minyans a day,” said Sheykhet, referring to a Jewish prayer quorum of ten people. Now, it can’t fill one.
After the megillah reading ended, Turei Zahav reconfigured its sanctuary into a refugee shelter for the night, ending the story about redemption from the brink of annihilation, while praying for Ukraine’s own.