September 28, 2023
September 28, 2023

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A Unique Pesach Trip… to Ukraine

In last week’s paper, Jewish Link Co-Publisher Moshe Kinderlehrer asked for how long after Pesach is it appropriate to ask people how they enjoyed their Pesach. Well, before it is too late, let me share with you our unique experience.

I too am filled with the joy and completion of sharing a beautiful holiday spent with precious family this past Pesach. Every day, I still reminisce and keep reliving. Not sure when the novelty and memories will wear off to move on to the next holiday.

I wasn’t in a hotel on the beach in Florida as you relay, but in the Ukraine in the area of Medzhybizh, where the Baal Shem Tov is buried. I know many of you are wondering: Why in Medzhybizh? My friends were aghast when I told them where we were going for the week. Typically, since my children live in Israel, we always go there for the Chaggim. However, for this Pesach, the plans were formulated over time between my son and son-in-law, considering a great program called the Holiness Hotel where we would have the opportunity to be nearby to visit Uman, Bedzevez and the Kvarim of Tzaddikim. All they needed was our approval and permission for a go-ahead. Now, don’t get me wrong. The expectation of not knowing how it will turn out was the hardest part of the trip. Well, to our surprise, we ended up in a hotel that was equipped with full activities for the children, galore with a cuisine that filled our every need and appetite with flying colors.

Let me explain further. Gabbay, an Israeli Chassid, who has taken on a mission to unearth Tzaddikim’s graves, has purchased properties in the area and has set up meaningful programs for the Jewish Holidays. My son, Rev Mordechai Kaplan from Ramat Beit Shemesh, whom I trust emphatically, assured us that the program will provide varied and numerous activities for the children and great food. Well, every bit of it came true! There was a children’s playroom with constant supervision and babysitters with bubble and painting programs for the kids to enjoy, fun blow-ups on campus, a tent sent up in the middle of the site with ping-pong tables, foosball and air hockey. Trips were arranged including the Mayan and indoor water park (with separate hours for men and women).

The expert chef was imported from Israel. He served delectable dishes to our hearts’ delight while the desserts were made on-site from a professional Israeli baker whose pastries, presentation and desserts were truly par excellence. Fourteen tons of meat were imported from England and shechted in the area. Fish in the area were plentiful and even the dairy was made in the hotel. So, the spiritual and physical needs were all accounted for. Actually, after hearing about some nightmare stories of Pesach programs going into default in the midst of the holiday, it is truly ironic that our program turned out to be A+ with all expectations. Now, of course, I am tainted because I had the opportunity to be with my grandchildren from both Israel and America in an insular place with great accommodations all accounted for on a 24/7 fun basis. My caveat was the importance of spending time together as a family, which is the most precious opportunity one can strive for over the Pesach Chag.

To give the full picture, the area around the hotel was depressed: many houses dilapidated that needed razing, rural setting of thatched cottages having rows of property that were used for farming, mostly potatoes, with chickens, ducks, goats literally crossing the roads. Many Babboshka ladies were wearing their kerchiefs, surrounding churches with beautiful architectural bubble roofs, all interesting contrasts to what we are used to. Certainly, as a realtor who enjoys selling homes, this is not the area of “Location! Location! Location!” Although, location is relative for different people’s needs.

We had parks to take our grandchildren to a few blocks from the hotel, so we enjoyed our leisurely walks, soaking in the uniqueness of a whole new way of life. Actually, we were there during election day, whereby a Jewish comedian and actor, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine with the backdrop of Ukraine’s sitting prime minister, Goysman, a Jew as well. It is ironic that a nation whose history is dark with anti-Semitism is the only country in the world besides Israel whose president and prime minister are both Jewish! Now, isn’t that topsy-turvy? This revelation does not erase the horrors of the ditches that were created when the Ukrainians in 1942 were complicit with the Nazis in shooting over 3000 soldiers with graves all prepared methodically for their demise. So, even in the Ukraine, one can tour places such as the Babi Yar in Kiev, which is a ravine where massacres were carried out by German forces and local Ukrainian collaborators during their campaign against the Soviet Union in World War II, which is the history we always need to come to grips with. But, in the 21st century, we have learned to confront the atrocities rather than to avoid them or shun their history so we will be fully prepared. “Never again.”

OK, so I don’t recommend it for everyone, but for us, it worked out beautifully. Can I say it was a trip of a lifetime? Sure, why not? Having gone on an African safari, a cruise to Alaska, visited many European countries over the years—which unfortunately now reek with anti-Semitism—I can say that each experience is unique in its own way. As Hashem has given us the gift of life, the world is an interesting, exciting place.

So, next year B’shanna Habaa B’Yerushalayim and/or beyond… Whether it is the beaches in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, or the goats and chickens in the Ukraine, enjoy whatever you do! The enjoyment of the Chag with family is the best part wherever we are! Baruch Hashem.

The word is out that Gabbay is now exploring purchasing property in the Carpathian mountains… Shavuot, anyone?

By Ruby Kaplan

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