Rabbi Mendy and Mushky Halperin, together with their son, Ari, will be joining the team at Chabad of Chernovtzy in Western Ukraine.
By Moshe New – Chabad.org
The historic city of Chernovtzy (Chernovitz), nestled in Western Ukraine, has been relatively peaceful compared to other parts of the war-ravaged nation. Here, even amid the turmoil of war, the Jewish community of about 2,000 has been experiencing a renaissance. Now, a new Chabad husband-wife team is setting down roots in the city to join the already thriving Chabad-Lubavitch of Chernovtzy team.
Rabbi Mendy and Pnina Glitzenstein have directed Chabad of Chernovtzy (also known as Chernivtsi and referred to in Yiddish as Chernovitz) since 2003. Over the past two decades, they have laid the foundation for a thriving Jewish community, establishing Shabbos and holiday services, the Ohr Avner Jewish day school and programming tailored for Jewish women, the elderly and students.
Even prior to the war, the rabbi had recognized the need for more emissaries in the city. Because of its unique position in the west of the country, since the war in Ukraine began in February of 2022, Chernovtsy has seen a huge influx of internally displaced Ukrainians settling in the city, including many Jews from harder-hit parts of the country.
“The need was already apparent pre-pandemic,” Rabbi Glitzenstein tells Chabad.org. “Yet just as we were finished dealing with Covid, the war broke out, pushing this necessity to the background.” Understandably, no new rabbi has put down roots in Ukraine since the war began, but the Jewish community’s needs have only increased.
Enter Rabbi Mendy and Mushky Halperin, the first rabbi and wife to move to Ukraine since the onset of the war. Mendy hails from the Chassidic village of Kfar Chabad, Israel, while Mushky grew up in a different part of the former Soviet Union—Riga, Latvia—where her parents serve as Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries. The couple, together with their 4-month-old son, Ari, crossed the border from Moldova into Ukraine—there are no flights into or out of Ukraine—on Aug. 30, arriving in their new hometown the same day.
“We are overjoyed by the opportunity given to us,” says Rabbi Halperin, who will work closely with Jewish university students in Chernovtzy.
“Me, too,” adds Mushky Halperin, who will be the Jewish programming director at the preschool. “We hope to be successful in our activities here, to give nachas to the Rebbe and to hasten the coming of Moshiach.”
With a rich Jewish heritage dating back to the 1400s, Chernovtzy was the capital of the Bukovina region of the Austro-Hungarian empire and home to more than 45,000 Jews at its peak. In the late 18th century, it became a stronghold of the Chassidic movement, most notably being where Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, the famed Rebbe of Ruzhin, established his court.
The vast majority of the Jews of Chernovtzy were murdered during the Holocaust by the invading Germans and local collaborators. After the war, Chernovtzy found itself in the Soviet Union, which further impeded any chance of a Jewish religious revival in the city. Over time, the community came to mirror other Soviet Jewish communities: vibrant with Jewish memory but starved of religion and even the basics of Jewish education.
This majestic and tragic history greeted the Glitzensteins when they arrived in Chernovtzy 20 years ago and set to work re-establishing Jewish life in the city. In addition to their synagogue and Jewish day school, in recent years they have added an afternoon supplementary school for Jewish children, a Kollel Torah for adults and a kosher restaurant in the center of the city.
While the war has turned over many Jewish communities in Ukraine, Chernovtzy has been spared.
“Thankfully, the war has largely bypassed Chernovtzy,” Glitzenstein notes. “Our community hasn’t seen the same exodus as many of our neighbors and on the contrary; it’s flourished. As Jews from all over Ukraine sought sanctuary here, our establishments expanded. This increased the urgency for the need for more emissaries here.”
“The nature of our service at Chabad has evolved,” says Glitzenstein. “The pandemic shifted our in-person interactions to screens, removing the personal touch from our work. Now, that’s changed again. The influx of refugees has once again offered us the chance to reconnect, face to face. We’re doing everything in our power to tend to the physical and spiritual needs of the community.”
The Halperins are aiming to place even greater emphasis on the youth. Rabbi Mendy is hoping to work closely with the teenagers of Chernovtzy, while Mushky focuses on the younger children. Furthermore, the rabbi will work to strengthen ties with Jews who left Chernovtzy due to the war, many of whom find themselves in limbo on various parts of the globe.
As Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish New Year approaches, Chabad of Chernovtzy is gearing to host more than 500 celebrants, and the arrival of the Halperins couldn’t have been more timely.
“The Rebbe did not send his emissaries to rest, we know our work is to always grow,” says Glitzenstein. “My wife and I feel blessed to be a part of this.”
“I know it sounds crazy for a young couple to move to Ukraine in the middle of a war,” adds Rabbi Halperin, “but we’re not here for adventure. We’re here because we wanted the privilege of working for the Jews of Chernovtzy.”
Reprinted with permission from Chabad.org.
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