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Kyiv Jews celebrate their 2nd wartime Purim with renewed resolve and optimism



KYIV (JTA) — In a historic building in the most industrial part of Podil, the hipster district of Kyiv that once was the heart of the Jewish trading community, a senior and passionate Esther seduces a much younger Ahasuerus. She flirts with the handsome king to the raucous giggling of the audience, which breaks into applause when the Purim shpiel comes to an end.

A year and a few days into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Jews in Kyiv and the rest of the country have celebrated Purim in precarious economic and emotional circumstances, under the continued threat of Russian attacks. Still, many of them are in much better spirits than in 2022, when the Jewish holiday of joy found Ukrainian Jews in a frantic state of worry and uncertainty about their immediate future.

“A year ago you could see the fear in people’s eyes; now they are very proud because Ukraine has resisted, and Jews are fully involved in the cause,” Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency during the movement’s Purim celebration in Podil. She is an Israeli rabbi who is the executive director of the Masorti movement-affiliated Schechter Institutes and periodically travels to Ukraine to serve the country’s Masorti communities. Masorti Judaism is similar to the Conservative movement in the United States.

“Last year it was very, very hard, because people were in shock, afraid, and they didn’t know what to do,” said Ariel Markowitz, Kyiv’s most senior rabbi from the Chabad-Lubavitch Orthodox movement, which held its own Purim celebration Monday night. “But now we know that we have a strong army, that we have a chance, and many people have actually returned to Kyiv.”

Rabbi Ariel Markowitz of Chabad Kyiv reads from the Megillah during his community’s Purim celebration, March 6, 2023. (Courtesy Markowitz)

The year-old war has shaken up Ukraine’s Jewish community, with members leaving the country or moving within it to avoid Russian shelling and its effects.

“Everyone has pretty much made a decision on whether to stay or to leave and we are reorganizing our community,” said Gritsevskaya.

Although at least 14,000 Ukrainians have moved to Israel since Russia’s all-out invasion started, and many more thousands have found refuge in Germany and other European countries, Gritsevskaya wants to focus on those who stayed. Estimates of the Jewish population in Ukraine ranged before the war from just under 50,000 to up to 400,000, depending on who counted.

One of the people who left the country was the former Masorti rabbi in Ukraine, Reuven Stamov, who moved with his family to Israel. Currently, the Masorti movement  — whose Ukrainian following Grivtseskaya estimates in the thousands — does not have a rabbi permanently in the country. But the community keeps active in Kyiv and other cities, such as Kharkiv in the east, Odessa in the south and Chernivtsi in the southwest, thanks to activists, volunteers and rabbinical students, plus the visits by Gritsevskaya, who first returned for Purim last year.

“Community life has never been so important,” she said.

Gritsevskaya pointed to the difference that having access to material help, connections and emotional and spiritual support makes for those who arrive in new cities from places in the south or the east occupied by Russia or close to the front.

She acknowledged that some Jewish organizations have ceased their operations in Ukraine and stressed the need of strengthening the work of those who are committed to remain, so Jewish life in Ukraine could be as “diverse” as before and people “have options” to choose the way they practice their Judaism.

Among the Ukrainian Jews that decided to stay is the director of the MILI Foundation, the entity that organizes the Masorti community in Ukraine. Maksym Melnikov moved to Kyiv from his native Donetsk in 2014 after Russian-backed separatist militias declared the independence of part of the region and war broke out in Eastern Ukraine.

Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya poses with community members of the Masorti community in Kyiv, March 6, 2023. (Marcel Gascón Barberá)

“I came when they started to occupy our land in Ukraine,” Melnikov told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at the Masorti Purim celebration in Kyiv, just before taking the stage to help Gritsevskaya read the Purim Megillah. “Almost a decade later, war came after me to Kyiv, and I don’t want to move this time, I’m staying.”

Since 2014, many of Melnikov’s friends and acquaintances from Donetsk have moved to Kyiv. While Russia’s full-scale invasion has pushed many Jews from Kyiv to move westwards or leave the country, the western city’s communities have received a new infusion of people from the eastern cities more affected by the war.

“Communities are changing constantly countrywide, and we are trying to reach out to those who arrive, both to help them start a new life and to build our community stronger,” said Grivtsevskaya.

She said the Masorti community in Chernivtsi has experienced a notable revival. Situated near the border with Romania, Chernivtsi is one of the few Ukrainian provincial capitals that has not been bombed by Russia, and thousands have moved there. “They have received another family and are very strong right now,” she said about the once-dwindling community in this historical Jewish center, where she hosted a Purim celebration after making her way into Ukraine in March 2022.

The massive uprooting of entire Jewish communities has been experienced keenly by Chabad, which has the largest Jewish presence in the country, with hundreds of emissaries serving Jewish communities in dozens of cities.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in those who come looking for help,” Markowitz told JTA hours before the start of Purim at Chabad’s community center in Kyiv. Many of them, he said, had come from Mariupol, a city bombed into submission by Russia at the beginning of the war.

Scenes of the Purim shpiel at the Masorti community in Kyiv, March 6, 2023. (Marcel Gascón Barberá)

Chabad is one of several organizations providing aid to Ukrainian Jews, including support in obtaining food, medical care and generators that keep power flowing amid widespread outages.

The rise of the demand for these services is not only driven by refugees, but by families and individuals who have lost their source of income due to the economic disruptions caused by the invasion.

“There is inflation, there are less jobs, a lot of companies closed and people lost their jobs or are unable to help their family members,” Markowitz said.

Besides the demographic and economic shake-ups, the war has brought changes in the way Jews relate to their Ukrainian identity. Perhaps the most striking has been a rapid shift away from speaking Russian, the first language of many Ukrainian Jews until recently.

“Even I started learning and speaking Ukrainian and you can definitely see how a new sense of national identity is being born,” Maria Karadin, a Russia-born Israeli who moved to Ukraine with her husband in 2005, said at the Masorti Purim event.

Maiia Malkova is 15 years old and one of the most active young members of the Masorti community in Kyiv.

“Last year I didn’t even think about Purim so much because I was so frightened,” she said while wearing a necklace with a tryzub, the trident that symbolizes Ukrainian statehood and independence. “But we kind of got accustomed to this situation. And it is great to be able to celebrate Purim again.”

The post Kyiv Jews celebrate their 2nd wartime Purim with renewed resolve and optimism 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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