Reading the Megillah in the Ruins of a Ukrainian Synagogue

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.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Purim, Synagogues, Ukrainian Jews, War in Ukraine


Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship