April 22, 2024
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April 22, 2024
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TABC Students Head to Romania

About a month ago, Rabbi Eitan Katz of NCSY reached out to TABC rebbe Rabbi Ezra Stone and Associate Principal Rabbi Steven Finkelstein with an interesting request: There was a group of over 600 Jewish refugees from the Ukraine who had managed to escape to Romania and they were about to move to more permanent housing within Romania. The refugees needed help with this daunting move. Rabbi Katz wanted to know if TABC would be able to send a group of students (along with students from other high schools) to help the refugees pack and get settled into their new homes. The answer was a resounding yes!

The refugees were once part of the Tikvah community in Odessa, Ukraine. Shortly after Russia launched their offensive over a year ago, Rav Bakst and the leaders of the community decided that it was best to try and get as many members of their kehilla out of Ukraine as soon as possible. They were able to arrange for 14 buses to take hundreds of community members to cross the border into neighboring Romania. The trip was not simple. Each family was allowed one suitcase and many families had to decide in a matter of hours if they wanted to leave their homes, businesses and entire lives and wait out the war in Romania. In addition to families, the group of refugees includes over 100 orphans, children of all ages from newborns through teenagers whose parents were unable to raise them and gave them up for adoption. [Over many years, the rabbis and staff from Tikvah, a Jewish communal organization based in Odessa Ukraine, went to great lengths to identify Jewish orphans and to bring them to live in their strong and religiously vibrant kehilla in Odessa. These orphans are an important part of the community and have been cared for deeply by the community.]

Tikvah had secured a hotel in a remote beach town called Neptun, about three and a half hours from the capital Bucharest. Ordinarily the hotels in this town are just used in the summer but Tikvah was able to rent the Agora Hotel for the last year. It is hard to fathom the amount of effort and money that has been invested in the wellbeing of this group. There is a fully stocked kosher kitchen serving close to 700 people three glatt kosher meals a day. Clothing and supplies have been generously provided and there are multiple schools set up including two for boys, two for girls and a yeshiva ketana that have been fully operational. There is a shul with multiple minyan times to accommodate everyone’s preferences.

Now, this entire community is relocating for the time being to a beautiful new apartment complex in Bucharest. The orphans will be moving to a new dormitory building next door. Everyone and everything from the hotel in Neptun has to be packed and moved. The new apartments need to be set up with new beds, dressers, comforters, pillows, sheets, towels and toiletries. Given how traumatic the last move was, extra care is being taken to make sure that everything is set up perfectly in their new homes. That is where the TABC students came in!

The first two days of the trip, the delegation from TABC was stationed at the hotel in Neptun. They spent a good part of the day packing thousands of dishes in the kitchen, stocking the nursery with supplies, and sorting a room filled with clothing donations from Jewish communities around the world. The best part of each of these days were the late afternoons and evenings when the children were done with school. The boys set up soccer tournaments at a local field, an amazing carnival and spent time with their new friends. At bedtime, the TABC students tucked in the younger boys; It was heavy to think these children don’t have parents to tuck them in and say Shema and this was a meaningful conclusion to each of these days.

On day three, the boys left early in the morning for the over three hour journey to Bucharest. When they arrived, they started moving hundreds of boxes of Ikea furniture into each dorm room at the orphanage and then started moving beds and mattresses up and down the 11 stories of the new high rise apartment buildings to make sure that everything was in place. About 75 duffle bags and boxes had to be moved to the second and third floors of the orphanage and bedding had to be set in each of the apartments. It was truly exhausting. At the end of the week, the boys headed back to Neptun and enjoyed an amazing Shabbat with a lively oneg, wonderful meals, games and activities. The Shabbat was capped off with a fun melava malka. Sunday was the group’s last full day and they helped to pack up the shul and then individual families. What a rewarding and humbling experience. Yasher koach to TABC juniors David Benisz, Yaakov Beyda, Izzy Bromberg, Eytan Goldstein, Chanina Nussbaum, Ben Reich, Yaakov Salamon and Zachary Samuel, as well as Rabbi Finkelstein, for all of their hard work and the joy they brought to this special community.

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