In my previous post Mendle and the Lebanese in Australia, I mentioned that Mendle travels all over the world helping Jews learn how to pray and sharing with them his knowledge of the Torah. Visiting so many foreign countries, Mendle always has a story to tell me when he visits.
A few weeks ago Mendle and I were supposed to go have lunch when he phoned to say that he was suddenly called to go to the Ukraine, they needed someone to help a Rabbi in the Transcarpathian Oblast (district) of which Uzhgorod is the regional capital.
This westernmost region of the Ukraine once belonged to Austria-Hungary during their great Empire and so Mendle found it easier to fly to Budapest and take a taxi ride to Uzhgorod than fly into Ukraine proper and then drive to that city. It was a six hour ride and Mendle had no clue what the fare was since it was all paid for in advance by the Chabad.
Uzhgorod lost its last rabbi during World War Two when he was sent to a concentration camp in Poland. The Rabbi was told to drop his Torah on the ground and he refused. The German guards then beat him to death. 7 million Ukrainians died during the Nazi invasion and occupation of which 1 million were Jews. A few years ago, Rabbi Menachem Teichman, a Chabad Lubavitch emissary, became the Rabbi for the region.
It was Rabbi Teichman that asked the Brooklyn Chabad to send over someone to help him with the upcoming holiday of Sukkot at the end of September. There was a small city, Khoust, with about 50 Jews not far from the Romanian border, that needed some help with the proper building of a Sukka. Mendle tells me that, at first, they built it under a tree and he told them that it must be built with only the sky overhead. Small things like that.
After tending to the needs of the Jews of Khoust, Mendle accompanied the Rabbi to spend some time at a Simchat Torah festival with the Jewish community in Munkacs. They were gone for three days and upon returning, the Rabbi found that his house, which he only built three months prior, was torched and probably robbed. In the Ukraine you do not put money in a bank since one never knows when they will collapse; instead the Rabbi had put his money in a small safe in the home.
The picture above is one of the rooms, torched by arsonists, in the Teichman home. The police are investigating. It is noteworthy that a non-Jewish woman owns the Synagogue where the Rabbi holds services. She bought it after the Communists took over the Ukraine and the Rabbi is in the process of trying to have it bought back. He built his home adjacent to the temple. He suspects that she had something to do with the arson/robbery. She is also related to the chief of police. It should be interesting to see how the investigation goes.
Ahhh, life for Jews in the former Soviet Union.
Chabad Lubavitch News,
7 Oct 2007Arson at Chabad in Transcarpathian Oblast
Rabbi Menachem Teichman was horrified to find his home torched and ransacked.
Local police are investigating whether the arson and burglary was a hate crime against the Rabbi and his family.
Uzhgorod is the smallest and westernmost regional capital of Ukraine. Once a hub of Jewish activity, the area's 25,000 Jews were rounded up and deported to Auschwitz during Passover of 1944.