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Embodying a story of trauma and liberation, Ukrainian Jews celebrate Passover amid a new normal



KYIV, Ukraine (JTA) — Yuliia Krainiakova fled her home in Kharkiv, Ukraine, after Russian troops invaded last year and made her way to Berlin, where she and her daughters settled for 10 months with the help of Jewish organizations.

After returning to Kharkiv several months ago, she hoped to experience some of the Jewish gatherings that had been a beacon during a time of turmoil — but her city, Ukraine’s second-largest, has continued to be shelled regularly, making safety a more pressing priority than Jewish communal life.

“Due to the war, it is difficult to find in Kharkiv,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Tuesday. “So we decided to come to Kyiv for Passover seder, so we could have a Jewish experience here.”

Krainiakova, her husband and her two daughters were among dozens of Jews from Kharkiv who made the roughly six-hour train journey to Ukraine’s capital on Tuesday for a seder organized by Midreshet Schechter, which in partnership with Masorti Olami operates all the Conservative communities in Ukraine.

On Wednesday, they sat down at a large U-shaped table, festooned with all the trappings of the traditional seder, for a festive meal whose main concession to the war was that few attendees were in their home city.

Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya directs Midreshet Schechter and has traveled to Ukraine multiple times over the last year from her home in Israel to support holiday celebrations there, while also teaching classes throughout the year online to students at Shaalvim Jewish Day School in Kharkiv. She said the Passover story, or maggid, was especially resonant for Ukrainian Jews who have endured more than a year of war.

“The maggid is going to be centered on going to trauma, because Pesach is actually a story of going through trauma, through the trauma of losing our Temple, our Beit Hamikdash,” Gritsevskaya said. “Now we are dealing with a different trauma, so the question is, how can we learn from the story that happened many, many years ago and connect it to today so we learn the lessons of hope and rehabilitation.”

Last year, Passover took place less than two months into the war, meaning that families were dispersed, supplies were hard to come by and any planning could easily be thrown into disarray as conditions changed. Still, between Chabad and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC, the country was home to multiple public seders, some held in hotels or earlier in the day to accommodate emergency curfews.

Yuliia Krainiakova, left, and Alla Gusak sit together at a Passover seder in Kyiv, Ukraine, April 5, 2023. (Marcel Gascon Barbera)

This year, life in Ukraine has settled into a new normal in which Ukrainians can reasonably plan for the future, despite continuous blackouts and ongoing shelling in some cities. Passover observances will take a more typical form, with Chabad, the main organizer of Jewish life in many Ukrainian cities, holding 90 community seders and distributing Passover supplies to 30,000 people.

Adding to the new normal is the fact that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who left in the frightening early days have returned home.

That includes some of the families at Kharkiv’s Shaalvim school, which remains online because of the ongoing threat of shelling. Their trip to the Conservative synagogue in Kyiv offers a rare opportunity to be together.

“The idea to meet and spend time with each other is very exciting for them after all this time staying at home,” their teacher Svetlana Maslova said shortly after the group arrived on Tuesday.

Besides forcing the kids to receive their education remotely and secluded at home, the 120 children enrolled in the Shaalvim school have been experiencing recurrent blackouts for months, caused by shelling or by Russian strikes on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. “At some point we had two full days without power,” Maslova said.

Shaalvim has provided a source of stability during a year of upheaval, parents said. Alla Gusak, who traveled to Kyiv with her 11-year-old daughter, lived before the war in Chuhuiv, a town about 25 miles southeast of Kharkiv that was a prime target for Russian troops because it houses a Ukrainian air force base. Russia briefly occupied the city early in the war.

“We were bombed and survived and managed to get out by miracle,” said Gusak. She added that their family home was heavily damaged and said another property in the family, in Izium, was rendered unusable along with the local medical clinic and schools while the Russian army occupied that city. “We cannot even go there because there are mines everywhere.”

Gusak and her husband worked in agriculture, but now there are mines strewn across the fields they once sowed. So even with its classes online, the Shaalvim Jewish school is of great help for her daughter to go through the horrors of this war, she said.

“What Jewish school gives us is actually family,” said Natalya Kupin, whose 11-year-old daughter attends the school. “It unites our kids, it gives us tradition and that’s what other people and nations also need, a basic tradition, because that’s what gives us the ability to be together.”

In the room where preparations were underway for the seder Tuesday, a costume Pharoah headdress hung in a corner, ready for a festive meal with lots of flourishes. Gritsevskaya said she had discussed the seder in advance with her students, and they would have an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of liberation in their own lives. She also said that while the preparation for the journey and the seder had been extensive, she didn’t know everything that would happen.

“The kids also prepared a show, a spectacle, about Yetziat Mitzrayim [leaving Egypt], which I have not seen,” Gritsevskaya said. “That’s a surprise for me.”

The post Embodying a story of trauma and liberation, Ukrainian Jews celebrate Passover amid a new normal appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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