Moment is publishing regular updates from Helen, a Soviet American Jew living in Kyiv. Read all the diary entries here.
In my last dispatch, when I tried to find out how Kyiv’s Brodsky Synagogue is faring during the war, I was rebuffed by armed guards. Nevertheless, now feeling myself on a mission, I went to the synagogue once again last Friday. The candle-lighting time was a quarter after 7 p.m., and curfew was at 9 p.m.; my husband was adamant about not letting me go. The synagogue is within walking distance of our apartment building. Still, it’s a long walk, and he was concerned about my safety. (Yes, I’m happily married.)
But seeing how committed I was, he reluctantly agreed to accompany me there. When we arrived, we found the same three guards with Kalashnikovs. The same darkened hallway. It was very quiet and no people were around. None! The guards recognized me and were not as aggressive as the previous time. They didn’t ask for documents, but they did have questions: what publication am I writing for, where is my press badge, what temple I was a member of, what is the name of the rabbi.
I was asked to wait and even offered a chair. I waited and waited, hoping I would get the chance to meet the rabbi. My husband was waiting for me outside in the rain; due to the war and martial law, everything was closed and the curfew was approaching.
After almost an hour, a reporter from the British Daily Mail showed up for Shabbat services. He didn’t speak Russian or Ukrainian, so he wanted me to translate for him. In return, I asked him in English to take me along to wherever he would be led for the candle lighting. Both of us were directed by the same armed guard downstairs to the basement. There, a rectangular table was set for about 30 people. There wasn’t much on the table, just modest dishes with pickles and coleslaw. And there were no people except me, the British reporter and the guard. The reporter was in a hurry and when he was about to leave, I managed to get his phone number.
This was a blessing. When I got in touch with him on Sunday, he routed me directly to the chief rabbi of the Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv, Moshe Reuven Azman. I contacted the rabbi on WhatsApp, and to my surprise he responded right away; I made an appointment to see him later that day. He agreed to meet for five minutes, but we ended up speaking for an hour. Look out for our conversation in my next dispatch.