April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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An Exclusive Interview With Rav Aharon Motoz, Head of Dirshu in Ukraine

Yidden around the world are being requested to be mispallel for our brethren in Ukraine.

(Courtesy of Dirshu) Rav Aharon Motoz is a rav in Odessa and heads all of Dirshu’s operations in Ukraine. As Russian troops began bombing and encircling large parts of Ukraine, Rav Motoz consulted with gedolei Yisroel and was told to flee. His hometown of Odessa, one of Ukraine’s largest cities, is strategically located on the Black Sea and is a very important city that the Russians are certainly planning on conquering. Rav Aharon spoke to a senior member of Dirshu’s hanhala in Yerushalayim this past Erev Shabbos, from the bus on which he was fleeing with his wife, children and a convoy of more than 200 members of the kehillah.

Rav Aharon, where are you now? How are you and your kehillah faring?

We have been in transit for 12 hours already. The plan is to travel for another full two days until we reach the most western part of the country. The entire kehillah has fled together with me. Many goyim who live near us begged us to let them come along, but we simply did not have room. People are sitting in the aisles and in every available inch of the buses.

I must admit that right now, the mood is one of great despair. Odessa is located right near the Black Sea and the Russian forces are gathering en masse for an invasion. We know that they have no problem killing civilians. That is why we have fled.

At first, we tried to get into the nearby country of Moldavia, but many of us did not have the proper papers to be allowed entry. We are now traveling to the West where we hope to stay in a refugee camp until things quiet down.

Why didn’t you stay in Odessa? The Russian Army says that they do not plan on targeting civilians.

Even if that would be true, we felt we must flee. The Ukrainian government is planning on drafting every male between the ages of 18 and 60. My brother is already fighting in the army. Those of us who cannot fight have decided that it would be safest to flee. Our primary fear is that we will be stopped and forced to return. That is why we will be traveling straight, day and night, until we reach our destination. It will soon be Shabbos, but we have been told by our poskim that we must continue traveling, even on Shabbos. It is truly pikuach nefesh to get as far away from the war zone as possible.

The truth is everyone who can find a way to leave is leaving—Jews and non-Jews. Everyone knows that during war, human life is considered worthless.

Are you worried about what life will be like under a government that is effectively controlled by Putin?

No one wants Putin. We don’t want to be under Russia in any shape or form. We view Putin as another Stalin type of dictator. He is an enemy of humanity. He is the Haman Harasha of our generation! Not one Yid in Ukraine is happy that he is coming. We view him as a murderer who does not have red lines.

I know that he seems to have a good relationship with Russia’s Jews, but ultimately we are talking about a dictator. No one wants to switch from being under a democracy to being under a dictatorship. If Putin takes over, I feel we will have to move out of Ukraine.

What chances does the Ukrainian Army have against the vaunted Russian Forces?

It is very difficult. The Russian Army is much bigger and much better equipped; nevertheless, we see that Russia’s plans have not gone as easily as they anticipated. My mother lives 50 kilometers from the Russian border and related that the Russians were having a difficult time conquering the cities in that area that lead straight to Kyiv. They have met with stiff opposition from the Ukrainian Army that they did not anticipate. Yes, we are not as strong as the Russians, but we are also not as weak as they make us out to be.

What do you think will happen next?

We are all looking toward America, which is effectively doing nothing. I think history will judge them… The only country that can stop Putin is the United States and they are not doing anything. I think that if there would be much stronger international pressure Putin would pull back.

As a rav and maggid shiur, how are you giving chizuk to your kehillah?

I am telling my fellow Yidden that we are now in the month of Adar. Adar is a month when everything can turn around for the good. I believe that we will celebrate Purim this year in Odessa and not under a Putin government. I deeply hope and daven that Putin, today’s Haman Harasha, will be defeated. This is not only in our interests, but also in the interests of the entire world. If he is allowed to prevail here today, tomorrow he will conquer the next country in Europe. We all know that when there is war, the Yidden suffer more than anyone else.

We must, however, remember that “Hinei lo yanum v’lo yishan shomer Yisroel—Hashem the protector of Israel does not sleep nor slumber.” Hashem watches over us and the Torah watches over us.

Now we have just begun the third machzor of the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha. We weren’t able to take much with us, but I took my Mishnah Berurah with me. I plan on continuing to deliver the Daf HaYomi B’Halacha shiur here as well as other shiurim. We have no choice but to continue to give chizuk and to be mechazek ourselves.

It is our fervent hope that the zechus of the Chofetz Chaim will protect us!

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