(JTA) — When Russian troops poured across the Ukrainian border in March, thousands fled from the cities that would be first in their path. But in Kherson, the southern port city with strategic value to the Russians, Rabbi Yosef Itzhak Wolff decided to stay put.
His decision to remain put him in line with the philosophy of his Jewish movement, Chabad, whose rabbis typically commit to the cities where they are stationed and stay there through thick and thin.
But his decision could also cost him the ability to serve Kherson’s Jews. According to a report this week in the New York Times, Wolff is now in Germany, concerned because some in Kherson accuse him of collaborating with the Russian forces.
Meanwhile, a member of his Jewish community is facing life in prison over his actions during the chaotic early days of the war, according to the New York Times report.
Russia captured Kherson on March 2, 2022, and for months, the city suffered a brutal occupation that resulted in hundreds dead and scores more “disappeared” or tortured, according to Human Rights Watch.
Among those living in the occupied city was Wolff, an Israel-born rabbi who arrived in Ukraine nearly 30 years ago, just after the fall of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s independence. For the past 13 years, he had presided over a Jewish community in Kherson estimated before the war at 8,000 people.
In the early days of the war, Wolff’s work to supply food, medicine and at least some semblance of a joyous Purim to his community was highly publicized.
During one trip, the Times of Israel reported, he dodged bullets shuttling food back to the city from the border with Crimea, where his brother is also a rabbi. In another, according to Chabad.org, he went out to deliver food even as Russian tanks rolled through the town.
“Despite heavy fighting in the streets of Kherson, Rabbi Yosef Wolff did not abandon his community for a moment, remaining in the war-torn city through it all and serving the local population,” Rabbi Motti Seligson, a spokesperson for the Chabad movement, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. He called Wolff a “true hero of the Jewish people and for people of good conscience everywhere.”
Before the Holocaust, Kherson was a major center of Jewish life, with some 26 synagogues, but now, there is only Wolff’s. And before the war, it was like Chabad centers around the world: serving a local community, but also famously welcoming to unfamiliar faces, including foreign visitors.
Opening the doors to newcomers took on added gravity after the war began and Russians streamed into Kherson. For much of the year, it was unclear whether Ukraine would regain control of the city, or whether it would become like Crimea and remain under Russian occupation. But last month, Ukraine liberated Kherson, generating scenes of jubilation — and putting anyone perceived as collaborating with the Russian army under suspicion.
Some of that suspicion landed on Wolff, who had allowed Russian soldiers to pray in his synagogue. The soldiers were Jewish officers who had arrived with armed guards, he told the New York Times.
In the days after liberation, he left Kherson, and Ukraine, for Germany. Now, with efforts to penalize collaborators underway, he told the newspaper that he is not sure when or if he will return.
Among those who remained in Kherson was a prominent member of the Jewish community who is now being prosecuted for his choices amid the messy reality of occupation.
Illia Karamalikov, a nightclub owner and member of Kherson’s city council, was close to Wolff, frequently allowing Chabad to use his nightclub’s space for events, the rabbi told the New York Times.
In the early days of the occupation, Kherson descended into a state of lawlessness. The Ukrainian civil administration fled ahead of the Russian forces and, after conquering the city without much resistance, Russia took little responsibility for its administration, instead sending soldiers on to other targets such as neighboring regions of Odessa, Mykolaiv, Kryvyi Rih — Ukrainian president Voldymyr Zelensky’s hometown — and ultimately, Kyiv.
Looting was rampant, and cut off from power and supply lines, the thousands of people who remained in the city faced a real risk of starvation.
It was locals who managed to bring back some semblance of order. Karamalikov helped organize a 1,200-strong community patrol to enforce curfews and watch for looters.
It was in that role, according to the New York Times report, that he found himself face to face with a lost and confused Russian pilot, whom his men had taken into captivity. Karamalikov held the prisoner in a utility closet in his home for a night, before ultimately making the decision to return him to the Russian forces unharmed.
That earned him a 12-page indictment from Ukraine, as he ran afoul of new laws enacted at the outbreak of the war that stipulate that “cooperation with the aggressor state, its armed formations, or its occupation administration;” are punishable as acts of collaboration under Ukraine’s criminal code.
Many of those who spoke to the New York Times said the laws don’t account for the reality of living under occupation.
“All these people who ran away are judging us,” Wolff told the newspaper. “These are cruel times.”
Through returning the soldier, Karamalikov allegedly “organized the further participation of a Russian serviceman in aggression against Ukraine,” according to his indictment.
But many in Kherson are not sure what other option they had. Karamalikov’s community watch organization was a volunteer and non-military force whose limited power involved pressing looters into doing community service. To have harmed the soldier would have made them combatants against Russia.
“We wondered later: Should we have killed the soldier and kept it secret?” one of Karamalikov’s watchmen, Andriy Skvortsov told the New York Times. “But I’ve decided no, that wouldn’t have been good.”
“With a life in his hands, I can’t imagine Illia ever killing anyone,” Wolff told the newspaper. “What he did was the most humane decision he could make.”
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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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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