One time on a Momentum trip, I heard that the Canadians were complaining that the translation we were doing into Russian on Friday night was making everything go too long.
The next day I had the whole group in front of me and asked: “Put up your hand if you are descended from Russian Jewry on either side of your family.” Two-thirds of the room, including myself, raised their hands.
I continued, “Do you know why you were blessed to grow up in Toronto, Cleveland, L.A., and Miami, with all of the incredible freedoms and opportunities?
“Because your Bubby got on the right boat. Some of our Bubbys and Zaidys didn’t make it. And our Russian sisters sitting here with us are their granddaughters.”
It was a loving putch. They received it and got the message loud and clear. No more complaining.
My maternal grandmother and grandfather came from a small town just south of Kyiv called Fostov. During the Russian Revolution, they ran away as teenagers, chased by Cossacks and wolves in the night. My Bubby said: “I would pray at night that if we were to be caught by one of them, G-d should have mercy on us and let it be the wolves.”
They eventually made it to Canada, and the rest is history.
This Shabbat, I am a guest of Helen Zalik, Momentum’s board president, who was born in Ukraine, and now lives in Atlanta. She told me her brother, who also lives in the States, called her up and said the Russian paratroopers had overtaken the town where they were from, and if they still lived there, they would be goners.
Today we pray for the safety of those left behind. And many of us who are sitting in safety in our cities should include in our prayers a deep and heartfelt thank you to G-d because someone in our family had the clarity, courage, and foresight to get on the right boat.
As our eyes and ears remain glued to the news, our thoughts turn to our Momentum sisters, their families, and the entire Jewish community in Ukraine. Our partners in Ukraine, the Chabad Kolel Torah Network, and the Jewish Agency for Israel are accepting donations to get assistance to those in need. We pray for the safety of all.