|Posted on March 17, 2022 at 4:25 PM|
I've been wanting to write something about Ukraine since the start of the war but it kept getting postponed. First of all, I bet you thought that the title of this email had a typo. Shouldn't it be Putin & Jewish Ukraine? Right. Here we are on the day of an Irish-American holiday where most people will not know that today is the Jewish holiday of Purim. So I suppose it's appropriate for me to have postponed writing this email until today.
But mostly I haven't really had the energy to pursue anything creative or purpose-driven since my husband died. The energy it takes to "create a new life" (which seems to be the task of a widow) is sorely lacking in me right now. Still, I thought I'd try and see how it goes.
(And now that I'm done and re-reading this, -it's taken me a whole lot longer than it usually does!- it seems a bit rambling, so apologies but I'm sending it out anyway!)
Hasidism comes from Ukraine
As you've gathered from knowing me through these emails, I do see everything through a Jewish lens - even Ukraine. And maybe you haven't thought about the fact that the Jewish roots of Ukraine go very deep. In fact, my dad's parents came to America from Ukraine. But as a Jew, I don't see myself as a Ukrainian-American and neither did my grandparents. They were just Jews in American - wanting to be American - trying to assimilate and grateful to be in a new country where they wouldn't be murdered for being Jewish. Still, it's been fascinating to me to look at Ukraine from that lens.
When the war first started, I definitely went to my rabbi to hear his perspective. He's Hasidic. Ukraine is where that form of Judaism began. It's the form of Judaism I like to learn: I think of it as modern-day Kabbalah since Hasidism came to life in the mid-late 1700's and illuminated the more ancient philosophies of Kabbalah and brought them to the common Jew. The group my rabbi comes from is one of the dynasties of Hasidism called, Chabad. The Chabadniks are all over the world and their Rebbe was the one with the brilliant idea to send out these incredibly strong, young couples to the furthest corners of the world to be there for the Jews living there. My Rabbi told me that he studies weekly with a Rabbi Levitansky who lives in a Ukrainian town near the border with Russia. My own rabbi was trying to study with him that day I came over through zoom but his connection was shaky because he was sheltering from the bombs in his basement! It was so inspiring to hear his story. Luckily he and his family is now safe outside of Ukraine but he is still working to help other Jews stuck inside of Ukraine - with food, medical supplies and ways to get out of there. If you want to donate to his work, go here: www.jewsofukraine.com/sumy
The thing that really struck me was that he and his wife, who had been there since 2004, had nearly completed a mikvah and had just chosen the tiles! That absolutely broke my heart since I know how much effort goes into building a mikvah and then to just have to let it all go and get out of there! Rabbi Levitansky told us that there isn't anti-Semitism any more there - at least he hasn't seen it. Even the non-Jews there were telling him that they believe that Jewish people's prayers are what is keeping them safe!!! And did you know that Ukraine has the largest Jewish Community Center in the entire world?!!
A Complete Reversal
How does all of this relate to today's holiday? In the Book of Esther (which we call Megillas Esther) there is a theme called, nahafoch hu - which means, "just the opposite". It represents what happened on this day on the Jewish calendar - Adar 14, 356 BCE - today's date! This Ukrainian war really to me represents an entire reversal of the norm and has the potential to really change and reverse so many things. The first of which in my mind is the anti-Semitism that was so prevalent in that country. Even today as I listen to the necessity of mass graves there, I get such an awful deja-vu.
The reason my family and many Jews came to America from Ukraine was to escape anti-Semitism. In fact, Hasidism came to Ukraine to revive the Jews who had just been slaughtered by Bohdan Khmelnitsky - ever heard of him?! He invented pograms and slaughtered 1/2 the Jews of Ukraine mid 1600's - a 1/3 of European Jewry at the time. He's a hero in Ukraine & there's a statue of him there. Then in 1768, Ivan Gonta, another Cossack murdered Uman’s 33,000 Jews. And they have a statue of him too! Yes, Ukrainians are proud of their Cossack heritage. So how "nahafocho hu" is it that they voted in a Jewish president who is now the hero of all freedom-loving people in the entire world?!!!
Crazy times call for a look at the deeper teachings within Judaism. I love Chabad because that's where I learn so much of those deeper teachings.
Here's an article from Chabad about the concept of Nahafoch Hu: Complete Reversal
Please do peruse Chabad to learn about Purim and Esther - even if you think you know something about the story, you don't really know the entire story until you have learned it from a Jewish source because you won't know the depth and breadth of what is written between the lines. You cannot know about any book from the "Old Testament" unless you learn about it from a Jewish source. The Bible comes from Jews anyway, right? Why not learn about it from them?! Here's the Purim Megasite with anything you could possibly want to know about this holiday. It's loaded with articles, videos and audios for you to choose from: Purim Megasite
Some things to help you with your broken heart over what's happening in our world with regards to Ukraine:
!. Read Psalms 121 & 20. Reciting Psalms can help remind us that we are in G-d's hands. Psalms Online
2. Meditate on one of the directives of the Purim holiday: to drink until you don't know the difference between "Blessed is Mordechai & Cursed is Haman". (Mordechai is the hero of the story of Esther and Haman is the villian). It is really important for us to find a way to expect that those things that feel like curses are truly blessings. And vice-versa - what do we really, truly know the TRUTH when we are being triggered by what is going on outside of us? Go deeper inside and discover what your triggers are all about and find a Nurturing Inner Voice that can support and heal them. That can bring you a peace and the equanimity that comes with knowing all is in G-d's hands. Even the Hamantachen cookie is open at the top to remind us to have a higher perspective & to keep an open mind.
3. Look below the surface of things. Esther in Hebrew comes from the word, hidden. Like Esther, take the next steps that are in front of you (like my writing this email without the energy for it!), pray, and move forward - act on the surface of things while staying connected to and aware of the Higher hidden hand that guides and is entirely in control of outcomes, trusting in that hand.
I have copied my class handout for the month of Adar where you'll find even more about the story of Purim, the history, the deeper meanings of the traditions we have on this holiday today. Class for Adar My entire year of classes can be found here: Kabbalah and Judaism 101
In conclusion: A quote from Kabbalist Rabbi Yitchak Ginzberg on Adar:
“...the Rebbe explains that oil that serves as a source of light is a reference to the atzmut (the essence) of Hashem. The crushing of the olives...reveals... the unknowable head, experienced as pure faith in the Jewish soul. The Rebbe explains that... in order for us to become luminaries of the essence of God, we have to be crushed. It is impossible to reveal this highest source of light in us without being broken, without having a broken heart.”
And Lastly, Rabbi Levitansky reminded us to light our Shabbos candles - that the Hebrew words: Narot Shabbos Kodesh (Holy Shabbos Candles) makes the acronym: Neshek (NSHK) which is the word for ammunition.
May we all find the Higher Hand in all that we experience in our lives and in the world - especially in the difficult things that bring a broken heart. And may Moshiach come to immediately, swiftly, peacefully and easily usher in a new world in our days.
Take good care,
Here's one of my Hasidic Kabbalah Cards for the month of Adar: