In the late 1990s, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife Rachel were working in the Jewish community in Poland. Together they served as national directors of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and ran a Jewish community center, ran adult and youth education programs, and organized events. Now the couple, who founded Pico Shul in Pico-Robertson, are returning to the area to host seders for native Polish Jews as well as Ukrainian refugees.
“We have maintained close ties with the community of people who have worked there over the years and return regularly. When we heard about all the needs and the refugees pouring into Poland, we felt a real urge to do what we could to help. – Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
“We have maintained close ties with the community of people who have worked there over the years and return regularly,” Yonah said. “When we heard about all the needs and the refugees pouring into Poland, we felt a real urge to do what we could to help.”
According to the rabbi, thousands of Ukrainian Jews fled to Poland. Today, more than 100 people stay at Hotel Ilan in Lublin, a small town of just 342,000 people and without significant Jewish infrastructure like in Krakow and Warsaw. Before World War II, the hotel was the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva.
“The funny thing is there’s this hotel in Lublin, so it’s a Passover hotel program, but it’s a very different kind of program,” Yonah said.
The Booksteins decided to go to Poland after speaking with the chief rabbi there, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, and finding out about the community that needed help with the seders. While they estimate around 100 people will join them, there could be more refugees arriving on Passover.
“We have great memories of doing public sedarim in Poland, and helping out felt like a really good opportunity,” Yonah said. “We can do this because of our skills and the fact that we speak Polish and already know the community.”
When Yonah and Rachel land in Lublin, which is closer to the Ukrainian border than Warsaw, they will hide the kitchen, gather raw ingredients like fish, fruit, vegetables and meat, and supervise the workers to make sure that the food is prepared correctly. . They also bring three of their four children, who wanted to help their parents.
“We felt a call for help, like many people watching the situation from the United States,” Rachel said. “We gave our kids a choice and they were very excited to be of service and to be part of this community building work that we have always done.”
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has been importing supplies into Poland for Passover for years, Yonah said. They send matzo from Israel as well as kosher for Passover wine and very large quantities of grape juice.
The Booksteins are launching an online campaign to raise money for gifts for attendees and to buy flowers and decorations to make the holidays even more memorable. Some people donate because they have a personal family connection to Lublin or Ukraine, and others donate because it’s a direct way to help refugees in need.
“We really want to make this seder not just a seder for refugees, but also a celebration of community and freedom,” Yonah said. “We want to make it very special.”
The seder will also feature haggadot in Polish, Russian and Hebrew – Yonah knows a little Russian, but will likely use a translator just to make things easier. In addition to practical help, the couple are also offering emotional assistance during this turbulent time.
“We hope that we will be able to provide not only a Passover celebration, but also comfort, psychological support and care, which the chief rabbi has said is badly needed,” Rachel said. “Hopefully, if these people feel connected to Jews around the world and know that people like us in Los Angeles think of them and care about them in a very specific and personal way, that will alleviate some of that. of their trauma. We hope to put a personal face on the support they really need.
To contribute to the campaign for seders in Lublin, visit picoshul.networkforgood.com/projects/156968-seder-for-refugees.