A rabbi from Long Island traveled to Ukraine weeks ago for what was meant to be a celebration of happiness in his new wife’s hometown of Dnipro. But when Russia invaded on Feb. 24, Menachen Lessoff and Daniela Brez were forced to choose between staying to help the Jewish community and refugees or fleeing for their own safety, Rabbi Nochem Tenenboim of Chabad of Hewlett tells Patch.
Lessoff was the Bar Mitzvah club leader at Chabad of Hewlett, where the community tried to stay in touch with the newlyweds as the conflict broke out.
“People tried to talk them out of having their wedding there,” Rabbi Tenenboim explained. “But it was [Brez’] dream to have the wedding in her hometown, where her family was from.”
At first the Lessoffs wanted to stay and assist others. But ultimately it became too dangerous to stay, and on Thursday night they were able to escape via train to Hungary.
The train trip took 22 hours instead of the normal four, Tenenboim said.
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The Chabad community in Hewlett tried to help by sending supplies, money and specific Jewish items unavailable in Ukraine. Boys from Lessoff’s bar mitzvah group sent videos of support and letters, along with prayers.
“They know they are not alone, that’s an important thing,” Rabbi Tenenboim explained.
Ultimately, the newlyweds decided they could be of more assistance to fleeing refugees if they were outside of Ukraine and now plan to resettle in Vienna, Austria, where there is an active Chabad community.
The couple’s story is being played out across Ukraine, as Jewish communities that fought hard to rebuild in Ukraine after the Holocaust and Communism are forced to flee their homes.
“The rabbis try to stay until the very last moment,” Tenenboim said, adding that he’s been in contact with rabbis from Chabads across Ukraine.
“They were very broken when they needed to leave. But they said it is the right thing to leave and they will rebuild, and we will help them.”
Jews on Long Island “should be very involved,” he said, and those who want to help can donate directly to Chabads in Ukraine through Chabad of Hewlett’s website, and send gestures of support to specific communities.
As it becomes possible to ship donations again, the Chabad plans to coordinate those efforts as well.
“God willing there will be only peace and no more suffering. We are watching the developments to see where we can help,” the rabbi said.