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A letter to my children: Mission to Ukraine

When we hand out baby formula, diapers, hygiene products, socks, and chocolates to refugees, I hope the Ukrainian people know that they are not alone

March 2022 – Adar II, 5782

Dearest Eve and Elias,

Our house has become frenetic again and you can see that I am occupied with activity collecting supplies and preparing for my trip to the Ukrainian border.

You are not toddlers anymore. You have blossomed into aware, smart, kind and good young adults who mommy and I could not be prouder of. Being your parent, I can detect in your facial expressions and general cadence around the house worry and concern you have of about me flying across the world into a war zone. I want to tell you why this trip is important and sacred to me.

First, though, I am sorry to cause you and mommy any form of worry. I love you more than any letter could ever describe, and I do not mean to add anxiety to your lives.

My life and identity were shaped by Judaism. Bubbie and Zayde were role models who worked hard to provide me with a Jewish education and they modeled Jewish values in most things they did. Some of my oldest and most vivid memories were of your grandparents leaving the house together and my older brothers, charged with looking after me, would kiss them goodbye. A few hours later, after I was long asleep, they would return. Only in my adult life did I learn that they were volunteering at the Chevra Kadisha – the sacred Jewish burial society that cares for the rituals of the dead.

As a young adult, about your age now, I asked my parents why that mitzvah was so important to them. Their response was twofold:

1) The most important thing to do is help people who cannot help themselves.
2) One day, when we can no longer care for ourselves, we do this so there will be others do it for us.

Those words beat in my heart and through my veins.

Throughout history, the Jewish people have been exiled. Whether wandering in the desert, leaving Spain with knapsacks in hand, pogroms in Russia or the Holocaust, we have been driven out of lands that we called home. In each of those historical disruptions, I envision in my mind’s eye, Jewish people leaving ….alone. No one escorted them on their journey or handed out cookies and water along the way. Stories are depicted in writing and cinema of onlookers celebrating our exodus. Somehow, we started again in new places but that beginning was difficult, hard and lonely too!

I was never present at those historical events, but my heart hurts at the loneliness my (and your) great-great-great ancestors had to endure. How they were made to feel like the ‘other’ must have been painful.

Now, in the year 2022, an exile is happening again but to a different people. For no reason of their doing, the Ukrainians had their homeland invaded, their lives turned upside down. The women and children have been forced to leave their homes and workplaces, schools and playgrounds and leave cribs, dolls, toys and husbands behind. Some vowed to stay and fight against a madman with unknown capabilities. Others have been separated from their relatives including aging parents, with little access to communication. This has been an unmitigated nightmare for Ukrainians and a sight that rings familiar for the Jewish people.

Seeing these horrible images and witnessing this helplessness triggered the words of your grandparents into my mind and feet. We must help people who cannot help themselves. We do this because it is just and moral and to never have anyone endure these tragedies while feeling alone. Our presence matters.

This week, when we hand out baby formula, diapers, hygiene products, socks, and chocolates to refugees, I hope the Ukrainian people know that they are not alone. We love them, without even knowing their names.

What they will also know is that your hand, your love, and your smile is the energy in the outstretched arm we will offer. So is our entire community. I might be physically present, but we are all part of this mitzvah.

I promise to be brave and safe, careful and selfless, passionate and peaceful.

I cannot wait to have you back in my embrace. Be good. Do your homework. Walk the dogs. Help mom. Give love. And, most importantly, fashion your day and your lives helping those who cannot help themselves.

I love you.


About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel commission and is a National Council member of AIPAC.
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