Hundreds of Odessa Jews celebrated Lag b’Omer under guard in the city’s first large Jewish gathering since deadly riots there two weeks ago.
The participants gathered near the city’s Chabad Jewish school on Saturday evening for a bonfire accompanied by song and dances while a dozen guards secured the perimeter, according to Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians, which provides aid to Jews in the former Soviet Union.
“I came to encourage, inspire and sing, and the truth of the matter is, I became inspired by how the Jewish community is managing, gathering for the first time since the riots to give children a sense of normalcy and some fun,” Eckstein told JTA.
Community leaders told JTA they had suspended activities that involved congregating for safety reasons following the May 2 riots that broke out in downtown Odessa. Forty-two people were killed following clashes between pro-Russian demonstrators and their opponents, as well as police.
Hundreds have died in similar clashes throughout Ukraine during the revolution that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych from power in February. Detractors accused him of corruption and allegiance to Russia, which annexed the Crimea from Ukraine in March. A new round of violence erupted after the annexation between pro-Russian protesters and opponents.
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which provides $20 million to $25 million annually in aid to Jews in the former Soviet union, has pledged an extra $5.5 million this year in emergency funding to Ukrainian communities, Eckstein said. He noted that $3 million of the added funding is for security.