In the seven weeks since everything changed in Ukraine, few things bring comfort because tragedy surrounds us. For me, and for many women around me who also remain in Ukraine, the main solace we have found has been in community and routines. Of course, we need all of the humanitarian aid, financial support and world support that we can get. No less important, though, is making and holding space for Ukrainian women to feel supported, loved and seen at this time.
Before the war, I was planning great things for the future, professional and personally. I’ve lived in Ukraine my whole life and I have two kids here. My son is 18, a second-year student of State University of Design in Kyiv, and he has stayed in the capital to help as much as he can. I am inspired by his strength and learning from him every day. My daughter is 9, and she is home with me. We have many conversations about the war, but I am also responsible for creating a sense of security for her as well as the opportunity to share her feelings. Meanwhile, as the executive director of Project Kesher Ukraine, a Jewish women’s organization, I had been busy with work and was also looking forward to completing my MBA at Catholic University in Lviv (and a long-awaited vacation with my family to the Carpathian Mountains).
Obviously, so many of those plans had to shift when the war broke out. But whether it’s taking time to meditate with friends, walk the dog, take care of my apartment or take my daughter to the park, when I make time for normalcy, I make space for myself, and that is how I carve freedom out of war. For this reason, I am anticipating Passover more than ever — because it is a well-known routine for me by now, and especially this year, it serves as a special form of resistance.
In my youth I celebrated the Passover seder with my grandfather at the head of the table, knowing that he had survived unthinkable experiences to bring Jewish traditions back in the next generation. My earliest memories are of standing next to my grandfather and boxes of matzah that were taller than me. From the moment my son started Jewish school, we always took part in the family seder at the synagogue. And through my work with Project Kesher, there have been many wonderful years of helping to facilitate first-time seders for women all over the country, an opportunity that shaped me as a Jewish leader and my understanding of what a thriving Jewish life looks like.
This year, despite the war, I will spend Passover in my home in Ukraine. I will host the seder, as the head of my household, with my son joining us virtually as he is in another city, grateful to have my husband and daughter by my side. I will have matzah on my table generously sent from the Jewish community of Great Britain. But without peace in my country, I can’t attend my synagogue or celebrate with the local Jewish community.
We will greatly miss those joyous community celebrations. Instead, during the seder, we will be prepared to hear air raid sirens and take shelter in the basement. In addition to reading the stories of how the Jewish people suffered in Egypt, I now have my own experiences of how my people are suffering in their land, against a heartless Pharaoh.
Fortunately, amidst all of the violence, emotions, fears and sadness, I have the Passover tradition to follow, and like muscle memory it guides me from bondage, or in my case, war, to freedom. This year when I read and rededicate myself to fighting slavery and striving for freedom, I will know that I am living this journey right now just by remaining in my home in Ukraine. Just as we end the seder each year with, “Next year in Jerusalem,” I add to that: Next year in Kyiv, and Chernihiv, and Krviy Rih, and Odesa, and Kharkiv… and all of the cities and towns where Ukrainians have been displaced.
May we all be home and living in peace next year.
Project Kesher Ukraine (PKU) is an independent, non-partisan, grassroots women’s organization founded in 2010 to empower women leaders and support Jewish life and civil society in Ukraine. To support the Emergency Fund for Ukraine: www.projectkesher.org/emergencyfundforukraine