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‘We can’t get to them:’ Members of Conservative Jewish community trapped in Kharkiv

As the city of Kharkiv in western Ukraine comes under heavy shelling, 150 Conservative Jews are trapped, sheltering at a Jewish school and community center.

“Kharkiv is now closed and we can’t get to them,” said Ayal, 45, an Israeli who declined to give his last name who is living in Ukraine and is friends with a Conservative rabbi, Reuven Stamoff of Kyiv.

Ayal spoke to the Forward from Chernivtsi, in western Ukraine, where he, Stamoff and others in the Kyiv community fled when the Russian invasion began. The Jews now in Chernivtsi — a safe haven at the moment for about 80 members of the Conservative movement — were able to speak to friends and family trapped in Kharkiv on Monday afternoon.

“The bombing has not stopped. It has gone on every day. They are bombing houses and schools — the whole city,” Ayal said of Kharkiv. He said no one there in the Conservative community, known as Masorti Judaism outside the U.S., is hurt, and noted that they had been able to stockpile food and water. “They are okay and lucky.”

The shelter is full of women, children and old men, said Ayal, who is from Netanya and is married to a Ukrainian woman. “There are husbands of women in the community who are now in the army and fighting.”

“Many Ukrainians want to fight,” Ayal continued. “The morale level of the people is high.”

Though Ayal is not Ukrainian, he said he is not leaving the country.

“I am staying here to support Reuven’s community,” he said from a shelter in Chernivtsi. “We are providing shelter and food and tefillah for people from our community. It is very quiet here. There are no Russians near here.”

There are about 1,500 members of the Conservative/Masorti movement in Ukraine living in the cities of Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv and Chernivtsi.

“Some of them have come to Chernivtsi to sleep and in the morning try to cross the border to Romania,” Ayal said. “Others are staying in apartments in the city and some live in the community center.”

Rabbi Stamoff has a Torah with him and he holds prayer services in Chernivtsi three times a day, Ayal added.

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