Rosh Chodesh Tammuz
Chayenu interviews Rabbi Dovid Lipszyc
Chabad Shliach to Crimea
Q. How did you get to Crimea and why did you go?
A. My Father was sent to the Crimea by the Rebbe in 1992. For the first two years, he sent bochurim and my older brother and sister, and he moved to the Crimea along with my mother, myself and six more of my siblings in 1995. I was 11 years old at the time. At that age, I did not understand the tremendous mesiras nefesh to which he had committed the family. We moved to Simferopol, the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. At the time, Judaism in Simferopol consisted of 15 elderly men and women who used to meet on Shabbat mornings to say a few prayers, sing a few songs, and say l’chaim. After about 40 minutes or so, they would head home. Once a year before Pesach, they would get together to bake matzos (which unfortunately, were not necessarily even kosher l’Pesach) and that was it. I remember our arrival as if it were yesterday. We arrived two weeks before Pesach, and immediately got to work kashering. Three days before Pesach we announced in shul that we would be making a public seder at 9:30 pm. They said nobody would come that late, as it was dangerous to go out in the streets at night because of shootings. I remember that there were about 50 people already gathered in the yard at 4:00pm. The previous year their seder had drawn 70 people, so we expected about 100. Well over 200 people attended, using up the food for both nights, so we had to cook more the next day.
Q. We heard your parents had to escape when war broke out. Do they plan to return?
A. My parents not only intend to return, they miss the Crimea and the community here terribly. I was recently on a Skype call with my mother while I was being driven around the city. Unknowingly, I had my forward-facing camera on. My Mother asked me to lift the camera a bit, and then I could hear the nostalgia and catch in her voice as she told me that she recognizes where I am. Unfortunately there is a delay in their getting the proper documentation to return here, but it is being worked on. With Hashem Yisbareich’s help they will return shortly. About a month ago on Shabbat I was sitting and chatting with a person who has been a part of the community perhaps from as far back as when we first arrived. He is a bit the challenging type. I never considered him a strong supporter of my father. As we were speaking, he asked me when my parents plan to return. I explained that they are working on it, but that it is not too easy to arrange. He then said “when your parents were here, their being the first rabbi and rebbetzin that we had met, we took them for granted. We did not help them, we demanded much of them and we complained that they were not doing enough for us. Now that they have not been here for two years, and we have met a few other rabbis in the interim, we have learned that we did not appreciate what we had in front of us”. Ashamnu, chotonu…
Q. How are you and your baal habatim coping with the situation?
A. As best as possible under the circumstances. Boruch Hashem, the baal habatim are happy to see me here, but my parents just can not be replaced. My parents are the ones who brought Judaism to the Crimea, and they were the driving force for 24 years. Unfortunately, at around the time of the referendum, a number of them left Crimea.
Q. Have you experienced any anti-Semitism there?
A. I personally, have had very few run-ins with anti-semites, but there have been a few incidents. My friend was beaten up one time in the shul, a couple of bochurim who were here many years ago were beaten up on the street, and once a bunch of students who were walking to our house after shul were set upon, leaving two in comas (one of them was only six years old). It also used to be common for someone to give a Nazi salute, or to shout obscene anti-semitic remarks at us. As far as I have heard, there has only been one incident in the last two years or so since the referendum in which Crimea became a part of Russia.
Q. Describe a typical day in Crimea.
A. I am a little curious as to whether any shliach has ever described a ‘typical day’. Is there such a thing? Obviously, upon waking up, there is davening and a little learning. After that, it is always different. Today for instance, I sat with our cook and driver to set up the menu for Shabbos meals (which we serve in shul after davening). He will buy the products, and she will prepare. I then met up with an old friend from here who intends to, G-d willing, open a kosher store here in the near future. I took him to meet the gentleman who is opening a kosher restaurant soon. We discussed vendors and kosher products (for which I have been compiling lists of foods which will need to be imported). I took calls from someone studying for geirus (conversion), and the bookkeeper and dealt with their concerns. I dealt with someone from a different city who mistakenly had accepted delivery of our kosher meat order, and arranged to receive it tomorrow. I also met with someone regarding one of our properties and ensuring that all is in order with it. In a half hour I am teaching someone hilchos Shabbos for an hour, and then I have a chavruso for another hour (from my smicha shiur). At 7:00pm my schedule should be clear for today, and I will begin learning chitas and Rambam with my father via Skype. Then might be just any other unexpected calls that come in. Calls come in until 11:00pm and sometimes even later.
Q. Tell us about you using Chayenu in Crimea?
A. I was learning chitas and Rambam with my father over skype, and he studies from Chayenu. I noticed that the version that he is studying from seems to have a great English explanation, and seems to be laid out very well. I would have happily subscribed to Chayenu but unfortunately, because of the local turmoil, there is no reliable way of having Chayenu sent here.
I asked him if he can arrange for me to receive the press version so that I can print it here for my own personal use. My father got in touch with someone from Chayenu. Chayenu reached out to the participating publishers; Feldheim, Kehot, Sichos in English and Moznaim and they received unique, limited permission to share a locked version of Chayenu with me for my personal use- just so that I don’t stop this important daily study cycle of Chitas & Rambam.
I am very grateful to Chayenu for sharing this phenomenal publication.
Q. What do you think the future will be for the Jews of Crimea?
A. I am Boruch Hashem seeing a revival of the Jewish community, such as I did not expect. First of all, more people have been coming to shul recently. As I alluded to earlier, in the coming months there will be a kosher restaurant and a kosher store opening, G-d willing. A couple of months ago, there were only two people purchasing kosher meat, and now there are ten, with more inquiring. In addition, we are working on opening a department of kashrut here which will answer kashrut questions for the community, and will arrange for the kashering of local factories and kosher supervision. I have seen people showing interest in supporting the community activities (still quite a ways from dependence on local baalei habatim – but we are on the way). There is interest in finally assisting us in the building of our Jewish community center (although doubtful that they can foot the whole cost). There is much interest in re-opening the school (this will take some serious work. as the building has become damaged). I arranged for some of the young adults who have gone through our school to meet a couple of times so far, and we are working on making this a weekly meet, to which we will add other youth who are starting to show interest. We are working on many projects, and are very optimistic that the community here will grow in leaps and bounds. All the same, we, just like our Jewish brethren everywhere, yearn for Moshiach, and hope to move the Crimea to Israel here and now in our times, b’korov mamash!