Honorable Mensch-ion

We Must Not Be Afraid

Each year, thousands of Jews gather in Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashana. Uman is a city in the Ukraine, the burial site of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. One of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings has become a popular song in Jewish schools and camps. Kol haolam kulo gesher tzar meod: The entire world is a narrow bridge. V’haikar lo lfached klal: “What is essential is to not be afraid.” When I hear this prayer, I am reminded of my rabbinical school classmate, Rabbi Reuven Stamov. Reuven was born in the Crimean region of the Ukraine in a secular Jewish family where practicing Judaism was forbidden. In the 1990s, while other families were leaving, Rabbi Stamov stayed in the Ukraine and became involved in Jewish and Zionist activities, including the Ramah-Yachad Camp for Jewish Children in Ukraine. I will never forget sitting next to Reuven in Talmud class while we studied together in Jerusalem. Our paths were completely different. I was a Rabbi’s son who grew up surrounded by a loving Jewish community who would return to the United States and build upon an already thriving Jewish world. Reuven knew what he wanted. He was going to start the Conservative Jewish community in Ukraine after finishing his studies in Israel. I have watched from afar the work of Reuven and his family. Yet, this week, I have watched up close as Jewish monuments and Jewish communities were dispersed and destroyed in an instant.

The Torah tells us of Bezalel who created the Tabernacle as God had told Moses. He was surrounded by designers and artisans who created a place of beauty. Yet, the parsha concludes that God’s presence truly exists in the cloud above. Rashi explains that every journey the people went on, the cloud rested upon them. We do not know what tomorrow will bring, but we do know we must be on this journey together.

This Shabbat, we hold the people of the Ukraine in our hearts, and we pray for our brothers and sisters. We pray for Rabbi Stamov, his family, and the community he has so proudly built. May the words of Rebbe Nachman echo in our hearts: “We must not be afraid.”

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