120 pairs of tefillin were given as a gift to the Jews of Ukraine, by the “Ichikowitz Family International Tefillin Bank”, a division of The Shluchim Office, and initiated by Rabbi Dovid Wineberg.
Rabbis of Ukraine’s cities & towns, as well as many other Shluchim in Ukraine, recently returned from the global Shluchim Conference in New York to their blood stained cities bearing unique gifts: 120 brand-new sets of Tefillin.
True to the Conference’s theme of ‘Hakhel’ (gathering), the initiative was a gathering of resources from around the globe: the New York based Shluchim Office hosts “The Ichikowitz family International Tefillin Bank”, which is driven by Rabbi Dovid Wineberg, Shliach in Cape Town, South Africa. A collaboration with Israel’s Chabad Youth resource centre provided the quality Tefillin, and finally teaming up with the “Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine” headed by Shliach Rabbi Meir Stambler.
Rabbi Wineberg explains, “We were looking to do something special in honor of the Rebbe’s 120th birthday. Recently, at our daughter Leah’s wedding, my dear friend, Ivor Ichikowitz, my partner & patron of The Ichikowitz Family International Tefillin Bank was sharing his concern for the welfare of Ukraine’s Jewish community. It was only natural that his passion for Tefillin would meet his concern for Ukraine.”
One Shliach who was particularly excited to receive several pairs of tefillin for his community in Kiev was Rabbi Daniel Lanau, who tragically lost his 10-year-old son Yoel David z”l, about a month ago in a fatal car accident.
“People in the community made good resolutions for the upliftment of his soul, and among other things there were those who committed to put on Tefillin every day,” says the heartbroken father, “the possibility of receiving tefillin from the ‘Tefillin Bank’ and the ‘Federation’ caused these members great excitement and joy. It should be understood that the cost of each such pair is $400, which is more than the average monthly salary in Ukraine before the start of the war – so this is a huge gift. In general, the Jews of Ukraine really want to add in Mitzvot since the outbreak of the war, and I am glad that we could help them at least in this matter.”
Rabbi Shalom Gopin, former Rabbi of Lugansk until the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in 2014 and currently serving in Kiev, added: “In our community, too, there was a demand for Tefillin and just when we started to look into the financial issue, this special initiative arrived that met the demand. At the end of last week I brought the tefillin with me and people were very excited to receive them. Let’s hope that the light of the mitzvah will drive away the darkness and cold that currently prevails in Ukraine and is well felt here in Kyiv.”
Rabbi Menachem Mandel Wilhelm, Rabbi of Uzhgorod in the western part of the country and the Rebbe’s Shliach in the city, said: “Last Thursday we marked 9 months since the war and the distribution of tefillin to Jews from our community and other communities strengthens and gives confidence and faith in the very difficult situation that prevails in the country. We are sure that soon we will have The prophetic vision ‘Neither nation shall lift a sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more’ and we shall be redeemed and have peace.”
It’s an important juncture for the Tefillin Bank (www.tefillinbank.com) with plans to expand activities across the globe. “This is the most uncertain climate in at least a generation”, says Rabbi Mendy Shemtov of The Shluchim Office. “Any support we could provide to Shluchim in the field, will go a long way”. According to Rabbi Wineberg who drives the project, the plan is to expand to those locales who need it the most. “We are focusing on ‘developing countries’ and wish to support them in the great Mivtzah of Tefillin”.
The Tefillin delivered to Ukraine were written by expert scribes in Eretz Yisrael, under the supervision of the Chabad Rabbinic Court, and were distributed free of charge to 120 Jews all over the country. “Because of the war there was a great demand for them,” says an official at the Federation. “The criteria for receiving the new quality tefillin was a commitment that they will put them on every weekday, as well as approval from a community rabbi who knows the applicant”.
Applications were received from Jews in Kharkiv, Kherson, Kyiv, Odessa, Lviv, and dozens of other cities and towns throughout the country, and it was exciting to see the great response. Several sets of Tefillin were handed over to Jewish soldiers in the Ukrainian army who pledged to put them on.
Surely, the light of the mitzvah will protect those who received the tefillin, all the Jews of Ukraine and the residents of the country.